BMC officer bribed to declare Borivli building unsafe

After the Mumbra building collapse that killed 74, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) issued notices to buildings that were dilapidated, illegal or had undergone alterations. Nearly 56,000 such notices were sent, but not all of the structures may actually be as dangerous.

MiD DAY has come upon a letter by ward officer Vijayanand Bole, in which he claims that society committee members of Om Shree Gokul building in Borivli tried to bribe him to get the building declared as dilapidated. When he refused, he was pressured by local politicians, including the MLA and the ward committee chairman (a local corporator) to reconsider his decision.

Not so dilapidated? Om Shree Gokul building in Borivli. Pic/Amit Jadhav

The structure is located near Kora Kendra in Borivli (west) and was given its eviction notice on September 27. Of the 63 families, 12 had refused to vacate the building, stating that it was not dilapidated. MiD DAY had reported about how BMC had cut off water and power supplies to force residents to leave (‘BMC cuts water, power supply to building, two days before demolition’, Oct 27).

Bole, the ward officer of R-Central ward, had visited the premises and he found that the structure needed repairs, but was not dilapidated. He alleged that some society committee members tried bribing him twice to get it declared as a dangerous structure. When he refused, local MLA and the ward committee chairperson pressurised him, following which he wrote a letter to his seniors in August stating that he was being put under pressure to change his decision.

Residents stand in front of their building in Tata Compound, Andheri (W). Pic/Nimesh Dave

The 55-year-old Bole, in his letter (copy with MiD DAY), categorically mentioned that attempts were made to bribe him so that he declared a building dilapidated. “I am not someone who would do wrong. I visited the building after I received complaints that it had tilted. But I found that it hadn’t. I visited every house there and found that the structure wasn’t dangerous, but needed repairs. Some members of the committee tried paying me off to get me to put the building in C-1 category (highly dangerous), but I asked them to leave. Then, they brought in pressure from the politicians, but I didn’t succumb to it,” said Bole.

Strangely, even after Bole’s letter, the building was declared dangerous. “The notice of eviction was issued by the Assistant Engineer after the powers were delegated to him from the higher authorities,” explained Bole. Abhijeet Mhatre, a resident of the building, claimed that the building wasn’t dilapidated and they were sure that they would wintheir case soon. “We have approached the competent authority and are expecting a positive answer for our problems,” he said. 

Meanwhile, only 12 families live in the structure that was built in 1976. The residents had alleged that there was a builder who indirectly wanted them to vacate their homes and hence people were working against them. (The claims couldn’t be verified as the officer when asked, he told this paper that he was never approached by any builder directly.)

Why is it done?
A senior BMC official on condition of anonymity said, “Many a times, developers want to redevelop a building and have to get it vacated. But there are some residents who refuse to move out. By giving them these notices of eviction using political and committee member pressure, or by bribes, the builders’ work becomes easy.”

The other side
Bole’s claims were refuted by Manisha Chaudhari, the ward committee chairperson. She says she didn’t pressurise the ward officer in any way. Gopal Shetty, the local MLA from the Bharatiya Janta Party, claimed that he never pressurised any officer. “I think Bole wanted money from the builder to declare the building dilapidated, and hence wasn’t ready to issue the dangerous building notice. When he didn’t receive any, he refused to declare it as dilapidated. There should be a narco test done on the officer to find out the truth.” Manisha Mhaiskar, additional commissioner, BMC (western suburbs), to whom Bole addressed his complaint, claimed she received no such letter. Nisar Khan, the builder in charge of the redevelopment of Om Shree Gokul Society, denied having anything to do with the building being put in the dilapidated list.

Not the only ‘dilapidated’ building
>> In June this year, buildings in Tata Compound in Andheri (west) were also issued evacuation notices claiming that they were dilapidated. Even there, residents had stated that the building only needed repairs and was not dangerous. Even today, the families continue to reside in the structure. “We approached the court with our case, and finally won. The BMC carried out another structural audit and the building isn’t dangerous any more,” said Sameer Dighe, a resident of the building.
>> Building no 1 in Gautam Nagar, Dadar was also issued a similar notice. But residents had refused to vacate the building and got a private structural audit done. The report letter states that the structure needed heavy repairs, but wasn’t dilapidated. It added that after the repair work, residents could stay in it for 10-15 years more. (See story below for more) 

Number of notices issued by BMC to buildings that are either dilapidated or illegal

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