“Mumbra is historically illegal” - the words of R A Rajeev, the municipal commissioner of Thane, speak volumes. A day after the collapse of a seven-storeyed structure in Mumbra took 48 lives and counting, and left many homeless and bereft, Rajeev claimed that most of the buildings in Mumbra are illegal and in spite of him having informed the state government of the same, no action has been taken yet against the errant builders.
“After I joined, here, I had sent a proposal to the state government saying that something needs to be done for Mumbra - and that redevelopment is the only solution which needs to be undertaken soon. Haphazard construction has taken place in this area,” said Rajeev. After being appointed the commissioner of Thane Municipal Corporation, Rajeev claims he initiated action against a slew of builders in Thane, even the ones with political clout. Asked why he couldn’t do anything in Mumbra, Rajeev’s reply was prompt: “Mumbra is historically illegal and most of the buildings here is illegal.”
He claims that his men in the area have been sending notices to illegal buildings, and even in the case of the building that collapsed on Thursday, they had sent a notice to the builder for violation of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act. He added that notices were also sent to the officers of the forest department, but no action was initiated. “Strict action has been taken against municipal authorities of Mumbra for not keeping illegal construction in check; we also request the government to take action against the forest officials who let construction take place,” said Rajeev.
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Rajeev claims that he has followed up with the government on redevelopment of Mumbra several times, but with no outcome. Another municipal officer, when asked whether a probe or survey would be initiated on the number of illegal structures in Mumbra, replied, “More than 90 per cent buildings in Mumbra are illegal and this is a known fact. So what purpose would a survey serve?”
'Our Mumbai doesn’t have illegal buildings like the ones in Shil Phata’
Mayor Sunil Prabhu insisted that Mumbai doesn’t have structures that are illegal from top to bottom like the ones in Mumbra
While the tragic building collapse in Mumbra has made residents of the city wonder how safe they are even in their own homes, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation would have us believe that there are no illegal structures in the city, like there are in Mumbra. This, in spite of the fact that the civic agency receives thousands of complaints every year about structural changes made to buildings without permission.
The cave-in has caused panic among residents of a city where construction is a constant. In the wake of the collapse, the mayor has asked the BMC to take special note of the scores of buildings in the city that are in a severely dilapidated condition.
Mayor Sunil Prabhu, said, “Our city doesn’t have any such structures like the ones in Shil Phata, where the entire structure is illegal from top to bottom. Our problem is more of dilapidated buildings, which need to be vacated. I have asked the administration to take immediate cognisance of this matter. A structural audit of all the buildings will be taken before the monsoon.”
The usual complaints that the BMC receives are about illegally added floors, extended balconies, shifted toilets and bathrooms, shifted beams and columns. A ward officer of K-west ward, Vishvas Shankarwar, said, “There are no such illegal structures in my ward and I am sure there are none in the city either. The complaints regarding structural changes are being addressed on a regular basis and we are on an alert.”
The power to label a structure as illegal rests with the ward officer, and the complaints are followed up by assistant engineers of BMC’s building and factory department, which functions at a ward level. There are about 268 private buildings that are in dilapidated condition and need to be evacuated. According to BMC figures, only five out of these buildings have been vacated so far.