l Since January, 2009, Sarfaraz Khan has written 38 letters to the vigilance department of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) complaining about an illegal seven-storey building which has come up next to his residential building. But there has been no response. “My daughter was threatened by those behind this illegal project. We are living in fear since the builder has underworld connections,” Khan (name changed) told dna.
l For the past seven years, MK Ramaswamy, has been crying hoarse about lowering of the plinth on the ground floor of his residential building in Chembur by a shopkeeper. “Apart from complaining to the M/west ward office, I have also taken the matter to the municipal commisioner’s office. But nobody appears to be keen on taking action,” Ramaswamy (name changed) complained.
l VG Sawant has complained several times over the past 10 years against the misuse of compulsory open space measuring over 2,500 sq.ft by a hotelier in Dadar. But, not once has the F/North ward office found it necessary to cancel the health department licence of this restaurant. “Political parties are supporting this businessman making a mockery of the law,” Sawant (name changed) observed.
l Kamlakar Shenoy, an RTI activist, has been battling against illegal constructions in central Mumbai for several years. A small hotelier by profession, he has been moving from pillar to post to get the illegal structures put up by a builder demolished. But, there has hardly been any response from the BMC.
With buildings in the city coming down pretty often, activists have pointed out that it is mostly illegal constructions that have been causing these collapses and the authorities concerned usually turn a deaf ear to the complaints they receive about such structures.
The biggest culprit is the building and factories department of every ward office. Anil Galgali, an activist, said: “It’s the job of the mukadam and junior engineer of this department to keep a watch on illegal constructions. But they often leak out the names of complainants to the persons doing the illegal work. In fact, the BMC itself starts proceedings against the complainant on some flimsy pretext with a view to silence him.”
With the realty prices being extremely high, people doing illegal constructions do not mind paying large sums to the ward staff to look the other way. A posting in the building and factories department is highly prized as huge amounts change hands in this regard.
E Natarajan, a former civic employee, said many hotels take permission to put up the ostensibly temporary monsoon sheds, but they never dismantle them. “Permission is given from June 15 to October 15 after which the hotel owner is expected to dismantle the shed. How many of them do that,” he asked.
The high real estate price is the single biggest reason for all the illegal constructions. In Bandra, Raji Hemraj has been opposing an illegal extension made by a shopkeeper next to her shop. If he were to buy this illegally occupied 150 sq ft commercial area, it would have cost him at least Rs2.50 crore. “But by giving a few lakhs of rupees by way of bribe to the local ward staff, he’s enjoying prime space at dirt cheap rate,” Hemraj observed.
Almost all the parties and many corporators are partners in this crime because the stakes here are very high. Every ward bristles with illegal constructions, but BMC is simply in no mood to launch a crackdown.
A deputy municipal commissioner said, “The ward officers have no fear because they cannot be transferred out of Mumbai. The government should amend the law so that it becomes possible to transfer a ward officer; only then will they act against illegal constructions.”