The Campa Cola Society imbroglio is a perfect embodiment of the malaise in Indian realty- no one is above guilt- be it the authorities, be it the buyers, the middlemen, or the developers, although it is just a matter of relative degrees. And as expected, the mess continues although a sense of despondency has seeped into the spirit of the residents
A sense of haplessness looms large in the precincts of Campa Cola Society, located in south Mumbai’s plush Worli area, as after stubborn resistance for weeks, residents have decided to step aside to allow men from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to disconnect power, water and cooking gas supply to their ‘illegal flats.
On earlier occasions, the residents had fiercely opposed the entry of the BMC officials.
Ashish Jalan, a resident of the ill-fated complex, said: “We are just tired of all this, can’t do this anymore. We will explore all legal solutions. We were all fighting to save our homes. We will comply with the Supreme Court order.”
Speaking on behalf of the Campa Cola compound residents, Jalan said: “We will cooperate with the civic authorities as they have told us that only supplies to basic utilities would be cut and they would not carry out any demolition.”
Clearly, the change of stand on the part of the Campa Cola residents,who had been resisting the authorities for quite some time, came after their meeting with Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. He had asked them to comply with the law before considering any ameliorative measures.
As of now, hardships are galore with the residents living in darkness and surviving on water bought from outside. At the same time, however, most of the residents have refused to vacate their residences.
The affected residents have also written to the President of India Pranab Mukherjee, hoping for a ‘presidential pardon’ considering that many senior citizens are living in these flats.
Earlier, Realty & More had carried a detailed story on the Campa Cola issue in which this correspondent had written that the Supreme Court had ordered families in the nearly 100 flats across 35 illegal floors in the compound to vacate the buildings by May.
But the residents had stayed put and refused to hand over the keys by June 12, the stipulated date.
With the tide turning against them, some of the residents have good words even for the BMC for its patience. “We appreciate the BMC’s patience and want to thank them for it. They could have done a lot against us but didn’t,” a resident said.
With the disconnections of power, water and piped gas supply, the BMC officials have also been making futile attempts to convince the residents to leave the society even as heavy security is maintained outside. BMC officials have also warned that if the residents do not allow them to implement the SC orders, they would have to use force.
Earlier, the civic body had also registered a police case against the society residents for obstructing the public servants from discharging their duties.
Between 1981 and 1989, seven high-rises were constructed in the Campa Cola compound while the builders had permission for only five floors. The flats were built by builders without permission from BMC and hence were declared illegal. More than 140 families have been residing in the complex for the past 25 years.
As a result, the residents have been fighting a legal battle since 2000, when they first went to the Bombay high court to legalise their water and power supply connections.
The Campa Cola compound lost its plea in the apex court on June 3 when it challenged its earlier order of February 27 to vacate the building by May 31.
BMC deputy municipal commissioner Anand Waghralkar had requested the residents not to compel the civic body to use force.
“We have tried to convince you for the past two days to cooperate with us. All your appeals have been rejected by the Supreme Court,” Waghralkar had told residents when they resisted the entry of the BMC men. He had further warned the residents that the costs for deploying manpower and machinery would be recovered from the society through property tax.
The Campa Cola residents had argued that they were being victimised for the fault of the builders and civic officials who colluded in violating rules to build illegal floors.
Though the residents have pinned their hopes on the state government, the bureaucrats at the state secretariat agree that the residents of illegal flats are hiding a lot from the government.
When they or their parents had purchased these flats, each of the buyers had full knowledge of the legal status of the piece of property. Each buyer of the illegal flats purchased the flats at throwaway prices in comparison to the market rates of the remaining legal flats in the Campa Cola compound, on the misplaced belief that the builder will get the legal sanctions sooner or later. Unfortunately for these buyers, the builder ditched them. Civic officials and bureaucrats say that the buyers have only themselves to blame. “They cannot shift the blame to the builder or the BMC officers,” a senior bureaucrat said.
On being pointed out that the residents could have used the RTI way to find out the legal standing of the flats, the affected residents say that there was no RTI at the time of their purchase.
It is pointed out that thousands of people had purchased flats in Mumbai legally at the same time as did these buyers of the illegal flats in Campa Cola society. Did the rest of the illegal buyers in Mumbai ignore carrying out the vital due diligence? Did they also not have RTI at their disposal for the due diligence?
Who are they kidding? “The illegal residents of Campa Cola compound should stop propagating myths for their convenience and for trying to sway public opinion in their favour”, said a BMC officer on condition of anonymity.
At the same time, while the BMC is conveniently blaming the residents of the I l legal flats, the civic body is yet to locate or pin down its own officials who provided power, water and gas connections to these residents during these long years. As long as it suited the civic body, it quietly collected property tax and water cess and enriched itself. The moment the residents found themselves in a spot, the civic body washed its hands off the whole matter and even sent down its demolition crew to pull down the very flats whose
occupants were paying property tax to the civic body till the other day.
There is also no gainsaying the fact that BMC could have resolved the issue as long as the matter was in its domain, but now is out of its grasp and control. Now the BMC is giving the plea that it is only following the court orders. What an excuse!
While the stalemate continues, what stands underlined is that the building of the extra floors without necessary approvals, the ‘ look the other day’ attitude of civic officials, buyers giving in to their greed without proper and adequate due diligence, scheming middlemen- all represent facets of a collective failure that we can afford to ignore only at our own peril. It is something that has to be tackled in the public interest and for the future growth of the realty sector.
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