Why residents of crumbling structures won't move out

Jul 12, 2013, 01:56 IST | Nigel Buthello and Mehul Thakkar

After the building collapses in Mumbra and Mahim claimed over 100 lives in a month, MiD DAY visits 10 buildings declared dilapidated by the BMC to understand why their occupants would rather risk lives than lose their homes

Ensnared in the spate of building collapse incidents in the city that is keeping authorities busy with evacuation work, several residents of still-standing tumbledown structures refuse to abandon their dwellings, even if staying on means endangering their lives.

“Our home is our heaven”, is the prevailing sentiment, “and we will not move out merely on the word of the authorities or builders,” say many residents dwelling in such structures.

In a city where many people have aged in years just waiting to get their houses back after signing up for redevelopment, the residents of dilapidated buildings feel it’s better to risk their lives rather than stay in a transit camp or a rented flat in spite of owning a house.

Those living in municipal apartments still have an alternative accommodation but private flat owners have no assured lodgings, which has only heightened their anxiety about leaving their homes.

MiD DAY takes stock of the crumbling realty in the city, with a spot check on 10 rundown buildings in Mumbai and Mumbra regions, to find out why their inhabitants choose to face the menace of death over moving out.

Kalpataru Chambers, Fort
The building’s facade doesn’t show many signs of disrepair. Upon entering, though, one sees the ruin. The wooden stairs sink a bit as one climbs up. Creaky logs support each floor -- keeping the ceiling from falling down -- and every turn along the stairwell. The walls and the ceiling gape open in fissures. All the floors, though, house tenants.

Pic/Abhinav Kocharekar

Alok Kaushik, who has been working out of a rented space in Kalpataru Chambers for 10 years, says, “I am aware that the building needs urgent repairs. A notice was put up a few years ago but I am not aware if it is on the BMC’s list of dilapidated structures.”

Asked why he continues to work out of the building, he says, “I have another office in Kandivli but if I move my entire business there, I may lose clients from around here. Also, travelling for business meetings from there would be difficult. Moreover, the builder is not ready to provide any alternative. So I have to continue running my business here.”

Bldg No 1, Punjabi Colony, GTB Nagar
The building is far from firm. Water leaks at every step of the premises, inside and outside. Even the houses have leakage issues. At the time of visiting, the staircase was soaked, and walls around it were cracked, with parts of it having fallen off, exposing the iron rods within. Weed and shrubbery has taken root at spots in the walls and on the topmost floor.

Where do we go? Rishi Raj Julka points out to the building he lives in at Punjabi Colony. The BMC sent an order for immediate evacuation on June 26, 2013. Pic/Abhinav Kocharekar

Rishi Raj Julka (39), a resident of the building, says, “We currently have 11 members staying here. This house has been with our family for 60 years. We know the building is dilapidated. But even if we decide to leave, we have nowhere to go. The BMC hasn’t allotted us any alternative accommodation. And even if they do, it won’t be in the vicinity. I own a general store nearby and it is not possible to shift it to another place. We have no other option but to live here.”

Kamal Kunj, Sion (E)
The first two floors can be forgiven their frailty, but the third floor needs all the reinforcements it can. There is leakage on the whole of top floor. Bits of wall have chipped off. The staircases are difficult to navigate and the wall facing the staircases on the top floor is missing.

Pic/Abhinav Kocharekar

K S Saxena (72), who lives here with his wife and daughter, says, “I have been living here since the 60s. It isn’t in such a bad shape. It does have bad walls and leakage issues but not to the extent that it would bring the building crashing down. Some 3-4 years ago, a notice had been put up declaring the building a dilapidated structure but it was later removed. I am not sure who removed it and why.”

He adds, “The building does need renovation and plastering, but until I see any major issues with it, I don’t think I am going anywhere, come what may.”

Other residents claim they aren’t aware the building has been declared dilapidated, and also claim ignorance of any BMC notice to this effect.

Officials say
Chandrashekhar Chore, assistant municipal commissioner (estate), BMC, who is in charge of the municipal properties, said, “We are trying to vacate all the buildings which are in a dilapidated condition, as we do not want any more lives to be lost. The evacuation of private buildings is being done at the ward level with the department concerned taking care of the procedures.”

TMC authorities reason that in Mumbra, most constructions are illegal or unauthorised, and it is difficult to accommodate their inhabitants till the redevelopment work is over. Incidentally, in the last general body meeting, it was decided that the TMC would seek permission from the state government to increase floor space index (FSI) to 4, thereby enabling cluster development for illegal buildings.

Shagufa Apartment, Jogeshwari (W)
There are huge cracks on each floor. The staircase appears perilous. There are leaks along the corridor roof. Iron beams could be spotted because of internal cracks in the building.

Pics/Abhinav Kocharekar

Anish Shaikh, a tenant here, says, “Our building is just 35 years old. I agree it is dilapidated, and we are ready for re-development. But the developer and tenants haven’t found a common meeting ground. Certain terms in the agreement are unacceptable to us. We feel the area we’d get after re-development is very small.

There are 55 tenants in this society, of which 17 are not willing to evacuate. We all are Ex-BMC employees and we are utterly dejected that the BMC itself is neglecting us.”

Mangalam Apartments CHS, Walkeshwar Road
Scaffoldings brace the exterior of the building, which is under repairs. The walls and the staircase are not shipshape -- there are cracks -- but they are usable.

Mehul Patel and his family have been living in the building for nearly four decades

Resident Mehul Patel (40) says, “My family has been living in this apartment for four decades. A week ago, we received a notice announcing the building as dilapidated, and that is when our water supply was cut off. On June 25, BMC officials came to check the building and after that it was classified as a C-2 from a C-1, which means that it can be repaired and we need not evacuate it right away.”

He continues, “Residents have come together for the repair work. I don’t intend to leave the building as it can be fixed. It is not that decrepit that it should be torn down.”

Meera Niwas, Andheri (W)
The building has developed giant cracks on the outside as well as from within. Moreover, the whole structure is at a tilted position, giving it an eerie, haunted look. The ceiling of every house leaks.

Creaky roof: Sebastian Rebello shows the collapsed structure of his house in Meera Niwas at Andheri (West). Pics/Kiran Bhalerao

Tenant Sebastian Rebello says, “It is not that our building cannot be repaired, but I don’t understand how our building is listed as a dilapidated building. Also, our landlord is not cooperating with the tenants, which is creating an obstacle for the redevelopment process.

I have lived here for nearly 63 years, and from 2003 we began getting notices from the BMC to vacate. But our landlord is not willing to get into the official matters. Without the necessary paperwork we do not believe in vacating the premises where we have been residing for almost five decades.”

Neel Building, Vile Parle (W)
This one needs a complete overhaul. Leaks mar the ceiling on each floor. Even the apartments have leakages inside. The stairs are scary, to say at the least, to climb. The pillars, that support the entire structure, have cracked.

Pic/Kiran Bhalerao

Tenant Suresh Shah, who is 63 years old, says, “Our building had 23 tenants, of whom 15 have already shifted to other places, since the monsoon can prove disastrous for us. At my age, how can anyone expect me to vacate the building without the paperwork between the developer and the tenants. Every time we visit the developer’s office regarding the status of development, he brushes us off, asking us to vacate the society first.”

Another tenant Girish Bhavani asks, “The builder is saying that we should vacate the flats but what about the rent he is supposed to provide us for temporary accommodation?”

Wings A and C, Rehmani building, Devipada, Mumbra
These two wings are among the extremely dilapidated buildings. With four floors, each building has 50 rooms. Residents claim they have been trying to get the requisite permits for redevelopment but years have gone by in vain. The ceiling of every house here is disintegrating and the iron beams are eating rust.

Gadkari Munir

“Yesterday, a slab from our kitchen ceiling fell off. Since many families living here belong to lower income groups, it is impossible for them to look for a rented apartment. They have no steady income,” says Gadkari Munir, a resident of C wing in Rehmani building.

Bilkus Abdul Hazis Memon

Bilkus Abdul Hazis Memon, a resident of Taj building on Mumbra Devi Road, says, “Both my daughter and son-in-law died in an accident and I have to take care of my two grandchildren. I do not have much of an income. What am I to do if I am told to evacuate and find a place to live in, all by myself?”

The secretary of the building, Yusuf Warunkar, says that the builder executing the redevelopment has to be credible. “After the redevelopment, we do not want any problem and have therefore told the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) to get a builder,” he says.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Market, opposite Crawford Market
Scaffoldings have been erected on the road-facing side of the building, as it is undergoing restoration. The building from the inside was not in such a bad state, however the walls of the staircase were cracked and parts had fallen off. Wooden logs also supported the staircases in order to support the ceiling and the floor above.

Officials were unaware of the building being in a dilapidated state and had no idea whether any notice regarding the same was sent by the BMC.

Primary School of Colaba, NA Sawant Marg, Colaba
This one stands first on the list of dilapidated buildings. On the outside, cracks are visible. The building appears old and in need of some restoration. The damp sidewalls bear patches of moss, indicating possible weakening.

The school staffs are not aware of any specific notice from the BMC, but plan to undertake repairs on their own and are waiting for official approval.  

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