Mumbai News

Bombay HC raps government for stalling demolition of illegal buildings – Times of India

Bombay high court. (File image)

MUMBAI: The Bombay high court on Thursday criticised the state government for ordering civic bodies not to demolish unauthorised structures during the monsoons even as a building in Mumbra facing demolition sought relief based on this directive.
“We want you to live. We don’t want you to die because of building collapses,” said chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Makarand Karnik even as advocate Suhas Oak representing an illegal structure named Farida Mansion urged the court to consider their case on “humanitarian grounds.”
The court was hearing a PIL filed in 2021 by three persons on the issue of the April 2014 collapse of a building in Lucky Compound in Mumbra that killed some 80 people. The PIL mentioned nine buildings in wards 29 and 33 constructed on private land without sanction. Last year HC had directed the Thane Municipal Corporation to file a report on illegal buildings, which it did on January 5; on June 27 the judges had questioned what action had been taken on the report. Now the high court has granted time till Monday for details of all residents in the nine buildings mentioned in the PIL to be submitted so that they can pass an order.
Senior advocate Ram Apte, for TMC, said it has issued demolition notices and disconnected electricity and water supply. He said residents had, however, refused to vacate the buildings. The judges said the buildings came up “under the watchful eyes of your commissioner and others.” Advocate Neeta Karnik, for the petitioners, said construction had begun prior to the lockdown and was carried out during the lockdown as well. “If power is disconnected, how are they staying there?” she asked.
Oak referred to TOI’s report on the June 29, 2021 directive by the urban development department to all civic bodies not to demolish unauthorised structures, slums and encroachments on government, semi-government and private land during the monsoon from June 1 to September 30. He also submitted a 1998 GR that puts a bar on demolition in the monsoons.
The judges questioned the government about the 1998 GR and whether its officers were unaware of a 1995 judgment that laid down procedures for taking action against unauthorised structures. “Why no demolition during monsoon? Risk is more during monsoon. What is the logic?” asked the CJ. “I am new to Mumbai. How many instances of collapses for which suo motu notice was taken!” he added. Oak said the GR was issued on humanitarian grounds. “You will put executive order on a higher pedestal than judicial order?” asked the CJ.
Oak also said “90% buildings in Mumbra are illegal but only these nine are targeted and 200 constructions of buildings without sanctioned plans is going on even at present. “Let us make a start somewhere,” said the CJ, adding that after dealing with nine buildings they will enlarge the scope of the PIL to include other unauthorised buildings.Oak said, “There are small children (residing in the buildings). We are not opposing demolition. Some time may be given.” To which the judges asked whether the residents would give undertakings to vacate by August 31. The judges have granted time till Monday for him to get details of all families. Until then, TMC will not take any coercive action.
HC expresses its displeasure as state says practically not possible to ban hoardings
The Bombay high court on Thursday frowned at the state government after it said it is practically difficult to monitor illegal hoardings and banners. “You are saying the government is not able to implement the court’s direction,” said Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand Karnik. They heard two contempt petitions, including one taken out in a suo motu PIL by the high court regarding non-compliance of its January 31, 2017, final order to pull down illegal hoardings and banners.
But state advocate Bhupesh Samant said there is an issue about implementation of the direction as it is not possible to completely ban hoardings. “If we try to control it, it will be like completely putting a ban on liquor,” he said. The chief justice then quipped, “You couldn’t find any better example?” Samant said that banning hoardings would lead to people finding different ways to put them up, including pressure tactics, and there have also been attacks on municipal staff. Samant said hoardings are a “regular, recurring feature” and it requires manpower and energy and the state is trying to regulate it instead of banning hoardings completely. “We are working to see other alternatives,” he said, adding that hoardings could be allowed in fixed zones, as done with parking.
The judge asked why the state does not adopt a policy where political leaders say they do not want their faces to be shown on hoardings. Samant replied that it is “a democratic set-up where people have a right” and it is the “ground reality”. The chief justice then said, “Without encouragement of leaders they would not be putting up these hoardings. They must tell their followers, ‘Don’t do it. We don’t want it.’ Let one leader say this.” The judges asked how the state can allow illegal hoardings to be put up.
Samant said that the matter was discussed with stakeholders and that people as a whole are not taking hoardings seriously. He said that the hoarding issue was neglected because of Covid-19 as priorities had changed during the pandemic. “It was not a life and death situation,” he added. Samant clarified that the state is not saying it will not implement the high court direction to take down illegal hoardings but that during “certain times the priority changes and law and order takes precedence”. “Nip it in the bud. Why do you allow hoardings to come up and say we don’t have manpower?” the chief justice asked. The judges posted the matter for the next hearing on July 28.


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