Lindsay Pereira: The ground beneath our feet
Builders continue to flout rules with impunity because BMC employees wake up only when a tragedy compels them to
It must be a disconcerting feeling, to walk to the window of one's home and watch as the land on which your building stands sink slowly before you. It must be worse when the home itself has cost everything you own and promises to swallow most of your savings for the next two decades as you pay back an EMI. It must be devastating when you consider that your building can suffer damage for no fault of your own and that there is nothing you can do about it because no one in the government of Maharashtra is interested in safeguarding your interests.
That is pretty much what a lot of residents in Wadala must have felt over the past couple of weeks though, following the landslide that traumatised them in the aftermath of heavy rain. The pictures were everywhere, of cars buried under mud and boundary walls slipping into space. I thought about what the residents living in the shadow of those expensive towers must have experienced when confronted with that slow tragedy unfolding before their eyes. 20 cars were taken down, after all, so this was anything but a minor hiccup. How did they sleep that night, as the rain continued to fall?
Landslides occur every year. They take down small walls, disrupt homes, and occasionally take a few lives with them. This shouldn't be something we take for granted, but years of apathy have inured us to the possibility of it happening like clockwork. Those visuals circulated on WhatsApp should have served millions of us as a reminder that there are few things better than being a builder in Mumbai. You can do anything you like, without having to worry about consequences. You can put up anything you like, break rules at will, and sit back safe in the knowledge that no one can harm you even if everything you do is blatantly illegal.
Remember the building that collapsed in Thane in 2013? You probably don't, because we have long learned to put these shocking events behind us and move on. 13 people lost their lives, and real estate analysts told the media that 2 lakh homes of the estimated 2.79 lakh across Thane and Kalwa-Mumbra-Diva townships were unauthorized. Think about that for a while. Forget about the fact that people put their life savings into homes under the assumption that what they were buying was legal. Forget about the fact that families risked losing everything because no one bothered to protect their assets. Forget about what adequate compensation means in the aftermath of such trauma because none of us are ever told about whether these victims are compensated in the first place.
Residents of those homes in Wadala told the press about their struggle to convince the BMC that work at the site adjacent to their buildings was causing a lot of damage. Apparently, there had been all kinds of warning signs, but it still took the BMC a year to pass an order halting work until adjoining buildings had been structurally restored. Residents repeatedly pointed out that substandard material was being used for backfilling, in blatant violation of the court commissioner's directions. No one at the BMC lifted a finger to do anything about this. It took this tragedy to get those employees to do what they are paid for by our taxes. This could have easily been a more horrific story, but they would still get promoted without being held accountable for their incompetence and inefficiency.
Here's something that ought to shock you, but probably won't. A day after a portion of that boundary wall collapsed, there were allegedly two more cave-ins near the garden area of the adjacent building. If you think the builders responsible for playing with the lives of citizens will ever be pulled up, you're a lot more optimistic than I am. We live in a city governed by a municipal organisation that doesn't care about our lives. It turns a blind eye to all kinds of violations that occur blatantly under its slothful operations and continues to ignore complaints that encourage builders to do what they like without fear of consequences. This year, it was the turn of those unfortunate folk in Wadala. Next year could be your turn. If you rely on the BMC, you do so at your peril.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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