Lindsay Pereira: Nothing in this world is free

Updated: Dec 17, 2016, 06:09 IST | Lindsay Pereira

When the government can't control something, it legalises it. What does this say about the implementation of rules and regulations?

140 families were forced to evacuate the Campa Cola compound in 2014 after it was declared an illegal construction. File pic
140 families were forced to evacuate the Campa Cola compound in 2014 after it was declared an illegal construction. File pic

It must be nice being a builder in Mumbai. I say this not because I have any respect for builders — no one I know does — but because they manage to get away with crimes far more easily than politicians. In fact, they bend and ignore regulations so often and blatantly, it's a wonder the government still bothers to create new rules to check them.

Consider the building you live in, if you will. Consider the plans for the structure that must have been sent for approval before construction began, the changes that must have voluntarily or involuntarily been made, the unavoidable bribes, the cutting of corners and, eventually, illegal sale of parking spots. Speaking of parking spots, it's acknowledged across our city that nothing aggravates a new home buyer or tenant more than high parking charges for their legally purchased vehicles.

A little over three years ago, the Bombay High Court had ruled that approved parking spaces in building premises were common areas for society members and could not be sold. Naturally, builders being true nationalists, who care about India way more than the rest of us, began insisting that home owners pay for parking spots in cash.

You know the drill — purchase or rent a place for ten times what you would in any other Indian city, struggle with down payments and arrange a loan if your parents aren't cricketers, politicians or BMC corporators, sell an arm to raise a percentage of the home's cost in cash because the honourable builder doesn't want to pay taxes to the government, and then, start the arduous process of bargaining for the right to park your own vehicle in your own building's parking lot, because the builder won't sell you the home unless you do! My neighbours purchased their parking spots for varying sums — all decided by the builder depending on what he thought they could pay.

I believe the chances of him having paid taxes on what he earned for those spots are as high as chances of our political parties admitting members who have no criminal cases registered against them. Earlier this week, the state government did something that must have seemed like a birthday gift for buil­ders. It legalised the sale of parking spaces, making it perfectly okay for builders to sell approved parking spaces, both covered and open. The reason behind this move was supposedly to regulate an illegal practice, while bringing undeclared income into the system.

Here's what I understood from this change: The government has admitted that it cannot curb something illegal, and, therefore, legalised it in the hope of earning more money for itself. What happens in the process is that builders can feel free to charge home owners whatever they wish to for parking spots, safe in the knowledge that they will turn over a percentage to the government and tuck away the rest of it without fear of raids by the Income Tax Department. It is the equivalent of allowing contraband sellers to set up kiosks at shopping malls — which is illegal, by the way, but hard to control and, therefore, easier to regulate when made legal. The fact that home owners, already struggling to come up with ridiculous amounts of money for holes in the wall, will now have to dig deeper for funds, is lost on the government.

It is bizarre how something that is undeniably questionable — a homeowner's right to park a vehicle in a building where he has purchased a flat — is now perfectly acceptable, simply because we can't get builders to follow rules. Who can a homeowner approach in the event of a demand made by a builder, anyway? How does one keep track of what projects say on glossy brochures and what the reality is when one has paid for something and received something else? Who is to say the home purchased today may not be demolished a decade from now when a somnambulant employee of the BMC decides to open a file? How did something as massive as the Campa Cola compound case even happen, without the connivance of builders and government employees? This is why it must be nice to be a builder in Mumbai. The only thing they must fear, I suppose, is whom to bribe and what the amount must be.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereiraSend your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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