Fear hangs over residents of Mumbai's Campa Cola Compound as demolition date nears

Apr 27, 2013, 07:30 IST | Hemal Ashar

Swish Worli buildings in shadow of BMC bulldozer; clock ticks on ominously as demolition time: Monday April 29, 11 am nears

It was a mix of desperation and defiance at Worli’s Campa Cola Compound on a sweltering Friday afternoon as residents gathered in droves to protest against the impending BMC demolition, set to begin on Monday, April 29. Seven buildings at the upscale compound are affected. While five floors will be allowed to stay, those above are to be demolished.

Shanaya I (r) and I Sethia are emotional at the Campa Cola Compound press meet held yesterday afternoon. Pics/Suresh KK

Tears, trauma and tough talk came together as residents spoke about living in the shadow of the BMC’s bulldozer (see boxes: The backstory and timeline). Residents, many of who have been living here for more than two decades now face the prospect of losing a roof over their heads. They say that they will continue occupying their homes, not move out or give in, even if authorities arrive on Monday to start breaking their homes.

Read the placards for what they have to say

A number of senior citizens, many moving aided with walkers and sticks, children, teenagers, men and women thronged the B Y Building at the Campa Cola Compound on Friday afternoon, at a press conference to highlight how they claim they have been wronged and raise a cry for justice. More than spoken words, (though periodically there were rallying cries for justice), it was poster power all the way as placards spoke eloquently of anguish and anger.

A child expresses some common sentiments

‘Demolition Without Trial’ said one, while there were plenty of banners about corruption. Another asked, ‘why the rush, rush?’ in a reference to 48 hours given for demolition while another questioned, ‘why the hush, hush’ insinuating corruption.

Tears flowed freely at the meet

Rohit Malhotra, representative began the press conference shouting, “We will fight, we will not give in. Nobody can come here and tell us to vacate in 48 hours. We have not done anything wrong.”

Residents shouted along with him, “We will prevail. We want justice. We want justice.” Residents had one question for the civic authorities that if they were “illegal” as is claimed then, “What was the BMC doing for 20 years? Why wake up now? We have been paying our property taxes for more than two decades, so why this sudden awakening?”

Questions and no answers

Even as the conference was about to take off, law student Shanaya Irani became the face of fear, never mind the show of bravado by some. Shanaya was crying unabashedly in the face of media cameras as her mother M Irani, who is a widow, too shed tears.

An 86-year-old woman, I Sethia, was sobbing silently to one side. Many women were crying in full view of the press at the trepidation of losing their home. Said one resident, “You see so many senior citizens here, there are many who cannot come down from their homes and join this press conference, they are bed-ridden. Some of them are terminally ill. Where will they move if demolitions happen?”

(From l) Rohit Malhotra, Ajay Mehta and J K Gupta

Malhotra said, “We have fought for 15 years and we will continue to fight. There are 200 families that are going to be evicted. In the end, who gets the benefit? The unscrupulous, who will still have development rights even after the demolition, so after this is demolished they can develop again!” Residents stressed, “Who is being punished? Law-abiding residents, while the unscrupulous not only go free but are rewarded!”

According to residents, three builders had kept them in the dark about notices being received during construction, and today too, though the builders are a party in their litigation, builders are passing the buck and playing a blame game with each other.

Said Ajay Mehta, another resident who was on the dais, “We have filed a review petition and then, we also have recourse of filing a curative petition. We want to know why we are not getting any time. We have space here within permissible limits. We are prepared to camp in Delhi for our case, and even then if our curative petition falls through then all I can say is God help us, the city and this country.”

Malhotra lives on the fifth floor of a building within the compound and so “My home is not to be demolished but the floors above are set to be,” he said. “Yet, when they demolish the higher floors, won’t my home be affected? Who will pay for the damage to the lower floors? What if the building comes down? What if an approved legal building comes down? Will Sitaram Kunte (Municipal Commissioner) give me my flat back?”

Ajay said that, “It is being implied that the flat owners are guilty we knowingly bought flats here and now, we need to be punished.” In the end, Malhotra echoed the sentiments of the irked residents when he stated, “We are being called illegal. We are not illegal.” Residents shouted collectively as the conference wrapped up, “They regularise slums, but we cannot be regularised. We are honest taxpayers.”

M Irani, Shanaya’'s mother said that her daughter cries seeing how tense she is. “It is exam time, youngsters including Shanaya are so affected by what is happening. What if they fail because of all the tension this has caused? Entire careers could get affected.” Another widow, V Mirani said, “I have been getting bouts of vertigo as demolition day nears. Only we know how this week has gone by.” She seemed to be holding back her tears.

An 82-year-old man, Vinod Kothari, who became a resident of this compound 35 years ago, was moving with the help of a walker. He stated, “As the first person to move here, I cannot even imagine being evicted from here. People keep asking me about my thoughts and feelings but all I can say is that Mr. Kunte should tell us what he is feeling right now. He is a human being and we are human beings too. He has a family and we have families too. The day I heard of the demolition order, it was as if a blackness descended on me, it was total depression.”

Residents say that they want to stress that they are not in favour of illegal structures. They are also willing to pay a penalty as cited by the law. The unprecedented demolition if it happens, will be the biggest ever, but residents are living on hope and prayers -- both hoping and praying for humanity to prevail.

The background: Residents view
There are 200 families facing the prospect of becoming homeless. The BMC has issued notices to 140 residents to demolish all structures above the fifth floor of the seven buildings in the Campa Cola Compound, Worli. Residents have lived there for more than 25 years. They bought the apartments legally and duly registered, while the cooperative housing societies have paid property taxes in full to the government, to date. However, they had not got the Occupation Certificates (OC) at the time of moving in and they were always told that they would get them in due course.

The apartments were constructed on land leased to Pure Drinks Ltd in 1955, which was permitted by BMC in 1980 to develop it for residential purposes. Without getting the plans approved, Pure Drinks along with builders, Yusuf Patel, BK Gupta and PSB Construction Co erected seven buildings, two of which were high-rise buildings of 17 and 20 floors. During the construction period, the authorities issued notices to the builders to stop work. The builders were fined and they paid the penalty and resumed work. After the construction was completed nobody prevented the buyers from occupying their apartments or the buildings from forming co-operative housing societies.

Unaware of these violations, the residents bought the apartments believing that they would get the occupation certificates in due course, as was the norm 25 years ago. Since 2005 the residents have been in litigation with BMC. trying to defend their homes and save their families from being thrown on the streets.

The Supreme Court (SC) verdict delivered on February 27, 2013, has instructed the BMC to pursue the demolition notices issued to all flats above the fifth floor. In the verdict the SC has even condemned those portions of the structures that are within permissible limits for regularisation say the residents. The area threatened with demolition is far in excess of the area that is beyond the permissible FSI. They have also included the water tanks and the lift rooms. While the demolition will destroy the homes of all the families with flats above the fifth floor, those below it will have to suffer without water and lifts besides tolerating dust and noise pollution created by the demolition, say residents.

History and Timeline
1) In 1955 BMC leased the land to Pure Drinks Ltd. for putting up a factory.
2) In 1980 Pure Drinks Ltd. sought permission from BMC to develop a large portion of the land for residential purposes.
3) Pure Drinks Ltd. joined hands with builders such as Yusuf Patel, B.K. Gupta and P.S.B. Construction Co. to develop residential property.
4) Construction was carried out from 1981 to 1989 and seven buildings were erected, two of which were high-rise buildings of 17 and 20 floors each.
5) Apparently the construction was not as per the approved plans.
6) Construction above the 5th floor in all the buildings was beyond the approved plans but the bulk of it is within the permissible limits.
7) There was alleged FSI violation of 1774 sq mts on a total development of approx 19600 sq.mt.
8) During the construction period, BMC issued stop work notices and collected penalties from the builders.
9) But the plans were never officially passed.
10) Residents are unaware of this.
11) Residents buy flats as the builders tell them that the plans are put up for approval, while they are actually rejected.
12) Sale agreements signed between every resident and builder carry a Title Clear certificate issued by a reputed solicitor firm.
13) Based on the recitals in the agreement, the ignorant purchasers legitimately buy their flats.
14) Government accepts relevant stamp duty from time to time and officially registers flats.
15) However, none of the buildings are granted an Occupation Certificate.
16) Buildings are not given water connections due to this.
17) Six out of the seven buildings have been living on tanker water for the past 25 years.
18) Residents approached the High Court for water connection as well as an Occupation Certificate.
19) High Court questions BMC, which claims the water connections have not be given due to the FSI violation.
20) Court expresses its disappointment over the BMC’s inaction in addressing the issue and gives them a time bound order to take action.
21) BMC immediately issues demolition notices to all floors above the 5th floor in 2005.
22) Original plans are approved only till the 5th floor, and residents do not possess any copies of plans and approvals from the builders.
23) Residents approach BMC for the requisite plans to understand the basis of the demolition notices.
24) Residents are refused a hearing, despite the fact that the demolition of such magnitude would displace more than 225 families from their homes occupied for over 25 years.
25) Pure Drinks Ltd. sells the balance smaller portion of the land to Krishna Developers, on which stands the now defunct Campa Cola factory.
26) 2005 Litigation initiated in the city civil court by residents, against the demolition notices issued by BMC.
27) 2007 Krishna Developers buys the smaller portion of the plot and intervenes in the litigation being an intervening party.
28) 2010, city civil court evicts stay and the residents file an Appeal against the city civil court order (AO) in the High Court.
29) Aug 2011, High court dismisses the AO.
30) Jan 2012, the residents file an SLP in the Supreme Court.
31) On February 29, 2012 Supreme Court dismisses the SLP and asks for transfer of a writ petition pending in the High Court, to the Supreme Court, thereby denying the residents their right to be heard in the High Court and having an option to appeal if the ruling was not accorded in their favour.
31) 27/02/13: Supreme Court verdict.
32) 01/04/13: Review petition filed.

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