Mumbai safety audit: A Kamala Mills waiting to happen in Bandra lane
Residents of the ONGC lane near Reclamation allege BMC has turned a blind eye to garage being illegally converted into eateries, encroaching open space
Kaushal Bhatia, Bandra resident
Bandra Reclamation has all the makings of becoming the next Kamala Mills, with respect to a fire tragedy. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC's) apathy has helped two 'illegal' establishments to come up on the ground floor of the ONGC Colony opposite Lilavati Hospital - Door No. 1 and Broaster Chicken have allegedly carried out illegal construction as well as encroached on open space outside their premises.
And the whole case smells of a repeat of 1 Above and Mojo's Bistro - while the BMC sent notices to the Bandra eateries and took action against the illegal construction, in the same breath, it generously dished out health licences and fire brigade NOCs to the two, similar to the Kamala Mills establishments, against which action was shown on paper, and yet, they were allowed to run with impunity. In January-February this year, BMC took "seizure action" on Door No. 1 by merely taking way the chairs, tables and other items outside its premises, ignoring the eatery's other serious violations.
Broaster Chicken. Pic/Satej Shinde
Status quo junked
The Reclamation eateries' violations and BMC's inaction came to light when a resident of Sea View Cooperative Housing Society, next to ONGC Colony, Kaushal Bhatia, took up the cudgels in 2015 against the two eateries for encroaching on open space. Bhatia had filed the first complaint in 2015 against unauthorised sheds by shop numbers 1, 2 and 3 (it was then a garage called Toyata Tech) owned by Irfan and Aman Mogul. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta had then ordered action on the encroachment, and on January 6, 2016, H-west ward officials issued MRTP (Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning) notices to the premises.
Door No. 1. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The owner then approached the city civil court for a stay, which was granted on January 22, 2016. This was followed by the owner requesting the Bombay High Court for some time to regularise the illegalities. The HC granted continuation of status quo on February 2, 2016. However, BMC's Building Proposal department rejected the regularisation proposal on March 18, 2016.
Speaking to mid-day, Bhatia said, "This is the height of negligence from civic officials, that despite a status quo, the owner went ahead and successfully turned his garage into Door No. 1 (shop numbers 1 and 2) and Broaster Chicken (shop number 3). Civic officials failed to take action against any structure. Both places continue to run despite serious violations."
Documents available with Bhatia show that fire brigade had granted NOCs to the two eateries on April 26, 2016, which was followed by licences from H-west ward's health department in July. Documents also show that the final approval for these licences was given by Assistant Municipal Commissioner of H-west ward Sharad Ughade on June 26, 2016.
After Bhatia's repeated complaints, a reply filed by health department stated that the permissions had been granted for only the legal structures. "Documents clearly show how these officials are in hand in glove with the owners. The eateries are in a residential area; there can be a major disaster anytime, as there are so many violations from the fire safety point of view," he said.
The investigation report into the Kamala Mills fire had indicted the station officer and health officer over similar points - fire officers and health officer had issued NOCs and licences, respectively, to 1 Above and Mojo's Bistro in spite of encroachment.
After no action for almost a year, on December 12, 2016, the H-west ward registered an FIR against Irfan at Bandra police station for doing illegal additions and alterations to the eateries. Papers available with Bhatia show that BMC issued notice to the owner under MMC Act for constructing an unauthorized mezzanine floor and toilet and lowering the plinth for Door No. 1.
"The owner had dug the plinth level eight feet down to construct the mezzanine floor. This is a very serious violation, as it can endanger the building's structural stability. How can anybody touch the plinth level? Despite knowing all this, BMC didn't take any concrete action. Everything was only on paper," said a frustrated Bhatia.
The other side
Assistant Municipal Commissioner of H-west ward Sharad Ughade said, "I will investigate the matter thoroughly (and find out) how fire NOCs and eating licences were issued. Action will be taken against all violations." When contacted, Irfan of Mogul Hospitality, under which name eating licence as well as all BMC notices were issued, said, "Matter is in court; we are awaiting the ruling. Why is BMC not demolishing shop numbers 4 to 22? This is all instigated by some so-called complainant who wants money. There is no illegality; MHADA, which is the original owner of the place, gave us permission for extensions in 2007 itself. BMC doesn't have any right or say in this. The court itself is saying that when the owner of the land is giving permission, there is no objection."
Saying that he and his father Aman had sold the place, Irfan added, "The notice copy has my name as the licences have to be changed. We are in the process of doing that; it will go on the new owner's name." When mid-day asked Irfan for his father's contact number, he said he would ask him to call the reporter. Till the time of going to press, no call came.