The state environment department has issued a notice to the BMC, to act against one or more of its own officers who allegedly issued an errant builder a commencement certificate for redevelopment work, even though the latter had not acquired environmental clearance. The certificate was wrongfully obtained by the builder for work that included construction of a tower.
On March 19 this year, the state Environment Secretary Valsa Nair Singh issued an order stating that certain civic officers were guilty of issuing commencement certificate to M/s Kshitija Infrastructure Private Ltd, allowing them to carry out redevelopment work at Laxmi Apartments in Byculla (West), a cessed building, without obtaining the necessary environment clearance certification from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
The building, which is under repair, was in the news a few weeks ago, after a part of it caved in, killing two labourers. In her order, Nair points out that officials of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) inspected the site after receiving complaints against the builder on April 26 last year and issued a stop-work notice on April 27. Work however carried on. Mantralaya officials said that in the event of the BMC failing to take action within a month from the date of receipt of the order, the environment department has the power to undertake action under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) and prosecute the officers. Also, the MPCB is authorised to file a complaint against the builder for violation of the EPA.
Amit Maru, an RTI activist who was instrumental in exposing the violations, said, “On May 6 last year the developer informed Nair that the Mumbai Repair and Reconstruction Board (MBR&RB) had approved of the redevelopment work completed so far. He claimed that a portion of the building had collapsed on November 14, 2009 and that out of 583 tenants, 494 tenants had vacated the premises. The developer claimed that certain ‘uncooperative tenants’ had filed a case in Bombay High Court, alleging environmental violations.” The developer even said that the executive engineer of MBR&RB had issued a letter on January 15, 2010, stating that the building was in a dilapidated condition, and could collapse anytime if it wasn’t redeveloped, and even issued the commencement certificate for rehabilitation of area less than 20,000 sq metres on July 29, 2010. However, when the developer moved an application to the Environment department seeking environment clearance on January 18, 2011, the area of rehabilitation mentioned was over 20,000 sq metres, and so clearance was not obtained. Yet, the builder obtained the commencement certificate from a civic officer and began demolition work.
Lakshman Rajpure (39) a tenant from the building, said, “A handful of us have raised concerns about the redevelopment, as we want all the papers cleared, so that there are no problems later. But the builder has already started demolition.” IPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh said, “Most of the environmental violations are taking place with the support of the municipal officers. The Environment Protection Act has bestowed specific criminal liabilities on the government or civic officers; this is a positive step in controlling rampant violation of environmental laws. The MoEF should take action against those who violate these laws.”
The other side
BMC Commissioner Sitaram Kunte said, “I am not aware of this notice, but I have already asked the concerned department to brief me about the same. I am expecting a briefing on Monday.”