The BOMBAY High Court on Monday called on the state government to develop a policy to ensure no lives are lost due to the collapse of illegally built structures. The court also asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) not to shirk its responsibility in the incident of the building collapse of Malwani (West Malad).
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Judge Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a suo motu (PIL) public interest dispute that he initiated in September 2020 after a building collapsed in Thane’s Bhiwandi, which has kills 40. The High Court also took note of the recent building collapses that took place between May 15 and June 10 in the Mumbai Metropolitan Area (MMR) due to “rampant” illegal constructions.
“A catastrophe is waiting to happen. Even if there is a will, there are invisible forces, which will protect illegal structures. You cannot have Mumbai as an international city with too many slums. This court had observed in previous judgments that the government and the agencies cannot be silent spectators ”, declared the magistracy.
“Only in Mumbai are we encroaching on government land and giving free housing in return… The situation has gotten out of hand, we cannot have policies where people die. We must value human life. There must be some regulation. You have to prevent these kinds of structures from appearing so that lives are saved, ”Judge Kulkarni said.
In June, the HC ordered a judicial inquiry into the collapse of a building in Malad in Mumbai, which killed 12 people, including eight children. He called the incident a “man-made disaster” and appointed Judge HC Justice (retired) JP Deodhar as commissioner of inquiry.
On Monday, senior lawyer Aspi Chinoy and lawyer Joel Carlos, responding to preliminary findings, argued that the structure in question came into being in 2012, however, due to state policy protecting invaders. , the civic authority could not take action under the Municipal Corporation Act and, therefore, the civic authority had a limited role to play.
Amicus Curiae’s lead lawyer, Sharan Jagtiani, referred to the preliminary report and informed the court that out of 8,485 structures on a new collector land measuring 2.2 km² in the Malwani area, only 1,072 were structures on the ground floor and 4,900 were on the ground plus one and 4,541 were ‘maybe’ illegal for exceeding the permitted height of 14 feet under state slum policies.
Referring to the slum rehabilitation policies of the government of Maharashtra granting legal protection against demolition of structures built before January 1, 2000 and not exceeding 14 feet, the HC noted that the Malwani incident was the result of a “Pure greed” and suggested studying the “Singapore model” of poor housing. He also noted that slum constructions exceed the permitted height.
Attorney General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni representing the state government said it may not be possible to remove separate floors and the entire structure may have to be removed as per policy.
The HC called on the state government to further extend protection by the RG to illegal structures until 2011 and said, “It’s up to you. If we are a welfare state, then what does the government think about the welfare of the residents of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors of the slum. We cannot leave the lives of citizens at the mercy of lawmakers. How could you tinker with the deadline? You have powers so vast that you can provoke such illegalities. Prima facie, they are motivated by vested interests.
CH will continue to hear from PIL on July 6.