Builder erected 20 storeys despite permission for 15

RTI query reveals Ackruti (now Hubtown) builders created 5 illegal storeys in slum rehab building in Bandra without obtaining permission from SRA or coastal zone authorities.

Close on the heels of a series of allegations of violation of construction norms levelled against Ackruti builders, a slum dweller has revealed through RTI that the firm indulged in another alleged breach: while redeveloping four pockets of slums in Bandra West, Ackruti extended the slum rehabilitation building 5 storeys beyond the permissible limit of 15. 

Height of trouble: The 20-storey tower built by Ackruti builders in
Bandra (W). Pic/Sameer Markande

In August 2010, Christopher Rane, whose mother, Rosy, is eligible for rehabilitation under the Mount Mary slum redevelopment project in Bandra (West), saw the rehab building being built beyond seven floors. The thought of having to pay additional maintenance charges prompted him to file an RTI to see how tall the building was going. The RTI response stated that the builder had permission for ground-plus-15-level, while the builder had already constructed a 20-level structure.

In September this year, Environment Secretary and Chairman of Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA), Valsa Nair, issued a notice to the builder (copy with MiD DAY) to stop the construction immediately.

The benefits
Rane said, "Since every floor has eight standard 225-sq ft flats, and the builder has built five extra floors in the rehab building, a total 9,000 sq ft has been constructed illegally."

Calculating on the basis of the existing market rate - which varies between Rs 35,000-40,000 per sq ft - the 40 extra flats are ideally worth around Rs 36 crore. "By doing so, the builder gets extra space to sell and make profits. He can manipulate many things this way," alleged Rane.

After Rane got the RTI documents, he wrote to SRA to ask what action was being taken against the builder. In December 2010, SRA wrote to Ackruti (Hubtown) and its architect, asking them to stop the work immediately.

The letter (copy with MiD DAY) reads, "This office (SRA) has granted the approval to rehab building no two comprising of ground-plus-15 upper floors. However, it is observed that you are carrying out the construction above the 15th floor without obtaining approval from this office. You are hereby directed to stop the work of construction immediately. Otherwise necessary action as deemed fit will be initiated."

But Rane said, "Despite a stop work notice, he has been carrying on with the construction." He then filed a complaint with the MCZMA, asking if the builder had obtained any permission from them before starting construction. In turn, MCZMA wrote to Ackruti in March this year, asking them to submit all documents regarding construction permissions and a status report on the project. In September, MCZMA issued a letter to Ackruti. Signed by Valsa Nair, it said, "This office received complaints that you started construction without obtaining the CRZ clearance from the competent authority and this (amounts to) violating the provisions of the Coastal Regulation Zone Act, 1991. Therefore.. you are directed to stop the construction work immediately and submit necessary documents of permission/clearance obtained from the different authorities including MCZMA, failing which the authority will have no option but to initiate appropriate legal action against you under provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986."

When contacted, Nair confirmed sending the notice. "We have just received the documents (from Ackruti) and I am going through them, after which will I be able to comment on the matter."

To be regularised?
Meanwhile, SRA has agreed to regularise the five extra floors subject to clearances from MCZMA. N B Futane, assistant engineer who is looking after the project, said, "We regularised the building as it's for rehab purposes. But we have put a condition that the builder will have to produce the letter of approval from the coastal regulatory zone department." He added, "We weren't aware about the MCZMA notice issued to the builder, as we do not have a copy of it. This is a new development."

S Zende, CEO of SRA, said, "We had issued a stop work notice. But with new developments, we have taken cognisance of the matter and it would be looked into." But Futane said that if the coastal zone authorities refuse to approve the construction, the only option would be demolition.

The talk of regularisation irked Rane and other tenants. "How can the building be regularised when the MCZMA has raised an objection? We are not going to let the matter rest as the project falls under CRZ II regulations. We will take it to a logical conclusion," said Rane.

Project origin
Ackruti's slum rehabilitation project in Bandra West, initiated in 1998-99, comprises of redeveloping four societies -- Shiv Mandir, Jaffarbab, Hill People and Durga Mata CHS (proposed). According to SRA's website, 582 slum dwellers were supposed to get a flat in the rehabilitation building. In 2004, the project was given the permission to construct several buildings to accommodate the slum dwellers, and recover costs through the saleable component of the construction. The total area of the redevelopment (rehab+saleable components) is 36,000 sq m.

The other side
MiD DAY had e-mailed the builder last Wednesday in order to get their response to the RTI revelation, but there was no response. After that, repeated attempts to get in touch with Ackruti officials also proved futile.

"Many times, construction is done without permission and later on an application is made for regularisation. However, if a builder constructs a building without proper permissions, it's illegal. But then there are laws that by paying penalties such buildings are regularised," said advocate and housing expert Vinod Sampat.

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