Tilak Nagar fire: Residents to take on MHADA, BMC

Updated: Dec 30, 2018, 14:38 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Post the fire incident in the eastern suburban township that left five dead, residents are planning to take on MHADA, BMC over the widespread redevelopment violations in the area

Tilak Nagar fire: Residents to take on MHADA, BMC
The fire that broke out in Sargam Society, killing five persons, brought to light the irregularities concerning fire safety in the building. Pic/Atul Kamble

Thursday's fire at Sargam Society in Tilak Nagar, which claimed five lives and left two others injured, has once again turned the spotlight on the large-scale real-estate violations in the eastern suburban township. Spread across a radius of over 5 km, Tilak Nagar, which is nestled in Chembur, today, comprises a population of nearly 25,000-plus families living in 168 high-rise structures. But, what was supposed to be a plush redeveloped residential area for the lower middle-class MHADA families — until 2000, they lived in ground plus two-floor structures here — has now become a hotbed for dubious and illegal constructions.

According to residents, who are on tenterhooks ever since the fire incident, most of the high-rises do not have government/statutory permissions in place. Barring two or three buildings, none of the structures have also obtained an occupation certificate, or other clearances like commencement and building completion certificates, sewage connection, parking facilities, or fire-fighting equipment. The residents are now planning an agitation to ensure that authorities take note of the situation at the earliest.

Flawed plan
Tilak Nagar in Chembur, once known for its flashy Ganesh Chaturti pandals, was also notorious as the hub of the underworld gangster Chhota Rajan; group clashes and police action were a common site in the area until the late 1990s. Prasad Sathyen, a long-time resident, who has witnessed its transformation, said, "Tilak Nagar is one of the first MHADA layouts, which went in for redevelopment in 1999-2000. It was an industrial workers colony for several decades and in the past, residents would stay on a hire-purchase scheme, where rent was deposited with MHADA."

Nitin Nikam
Nitin Nikam

Sathyen added, "Following a central government notification, MHADA scrapped the hire-purchase scheme, and offered to give all societies conveyance [a legal process of transferring property from one owner to another], subject to payment of premium and some terms and conditions. Most of the societies then decided to go in for redevelopment. During that period, there were no redevelopment guidelines and many societies had also not upgraded their society bye-laws."

Many non-professional developers, who found support from local politicians and the underworld — Rajan's wife Sujata Nikhalje floated a company called Khushi Developers — started taking on redevelopment projects here, and in the absence of guidelines, lured residents with homes with larger carpet area. Advocate Nitin Nikam, a resident of Tilak Nagar for the last 40 years, and the president of Tilak Nagar Residents Welfare Association (TNRWA), said, "Apart from the BMC and MHADA, even local residents have to be blamed for the mess.

Before redevelopment each ground plus two-floor MHADA building would have 36 rooms, which post redevelopment was converted to high-rises where FSI was misused." He added, "When the structures were ready, the developers sold the higher flats at the then prevailing market rates, claiming that the project had already received BMC water supply and power connection, when the fact was that not a single redeveloped building had an OC or building completion certificate. Nobody raised a stink."

Nikam whose building is only separated by a wall from Sargam Society, said the fire on Thursday, established that most buildings here are not fire-compliant. "Either the developer has not provided residents with fire-fighting equipment, or the buildings have sub-standard ones. Also, most residents are not even trained to operate a basic fire extinguisher, forget being aware of a fire audit, which is now mandatory for each building under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act." The water connection too, is being provided on humanitarian grounds to these residents by the BMC for which a penalty of 50 per cent is levied on the water bill, a resident said.

What next?
With 20 buildings still under construction in Tilak Nagar, Nikam and his association have decided that they won't allow anyone to occupy the flats here, until the developers get all the required permissions and sanctions in place. "Also, residents through the association are planning an agitation soon, to raise their concerns against the shoddy planning by the corporation and MHADA." Advocate Vinod Sampat, founder President of Stamp Duty and Registration Payers Association, said, "I fail to understand why MHADA and BMC do not bother to inspect the shoddy construction work happening in the name of redevelopment."

Pic/Ashish Raje
Pic/Ashish Raje

Fire at Worli: 12 rushed to hospital
A fire broke out at Sadhana Industrial Estate near Mahindra Tower, Worli around 4.30 pm on Saturday evening. The disaster officials said that the room where the fire broke out was empty. Eight fire engines, two fire tenders, seven jumbo tankers were rushed to the spot. The ground-plus three-storey commercial structure was completely engulfed in smoke, said a fire official. Twelve firemen were rushed to the hospital, after they complained of suffocation. Their condition is stable, the fire department confirmed.

Issues that need to be addressed

  • Due to patronage of gangsters, no serious builders have taken up development in the area
  • Despite 99% buildings having no OC or permanent water connection, MHADA as landowner isn't taking any stock of the situation
  • Builders in many cases have stopped paying rent to old residents, forcing the latter to come and occupy under-constructed buildings
  • No co-ordination between the fire department and BMC regarding fire-compliance

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