MiD DAY has in its possession a letter issued by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government Of India, dated June 20, 2012, directing the Mumbai collector to initiate all legal action permissible under The Environment (Protection) Act, including demolition — if required — to rectify the damage done. The ministry had also applied the precept to the infamous Adarsh Society, which has been in the news for similar alleged violations.
The order goes on to add that the decision has been taken on the basis of the report submitted by the Borivli tehsildar after a physical site inspection, and now the collector’s office has to inform competent authorities within 30 days about the action taken in compliance with Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MR&TP) Act.
In the article ‘Your dream home could be demolished’, published on January 16, 2011, MiD DAY had highlighted a response to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Charkop resident Reji Abraham in December 2010, which found that the four-storeyed Sai Baba Cooperative Housing Society, one of the 25 buildings under construction, was cleared by the building proposal department on the basis of relief granted by Bombay High Court in Chamber Summons of 2006, though the final authority for yielding permissions is the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.
Abraham, president of United Association for Social, Educational and Public Welfare — a residents’ body which has been opposing the destruction of natural habitat in Charkop area for many years — who had filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court against the illegal construction, stated that the outcome was inevitable.
“It is strange how buildings like Sai Baba CHS, which are surrounded by mangroves even today, were allowed to be raised with impunity in Charkop despite a clear 2004 Bombay High Court order that disallows construction within 50 metres of mangroves. What’s worse, the builders knew this could happen, but withheld this vital information from gullible buyers, many of whom have taken bank loans to purchase the property and are now bound to suffer,” he said.
Abraham added that owing to the callous behaviour of authorities, the common man too has started taking the liberty of encroaching on forestland, which was once the domain of the land mafia and slum dadas. “When environmentalists brought this matter to light and took the developers to court in 2006, the builders gave an undertaking to Bombay High Court that if the verdict went against them, they would demolish the buildings. They however kept the buyers in the dark about their pledge, and once the flats were ready, they sold them to unsuspecting customers the same year,” he told MiD DAY.
When contacted, Borivli tehsildar Prashant Panvekar stated that though he had not read the order in detail, it was quite specific to the case of alleged violations of Sai Baba CHS, and as per the directive action would be initiated and a detailed report submitted to the authorities.
“One can never understand the plight of gullible people who use up their life’s savings and even procure bank loans to buy properties that do not have requisite permissions from the government, owing to close proximity to natural habitats, which are protected under the law. Raising such issues will go a long way in educating and safeguarding their interest in the future ” he said.