HC: Mumbai is the only city where encroacher is given free housing

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Mumbai, Jul 5 (PTI) Referring to rampant illegal constructions across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), the Bombay High Court on Monday said that the situation has gone 'out of hand' and the Maharashtra government must not have policies that 'permitted people to die.' A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni was referring to the Maharashtra government's slum rehabilitation policies that granted statutory protection against demolition and eviction to slum tenements that have been constructed prior to January 1, 2000, and are not higher than 14 feet.

The bench noted the June 9 collapse of a residential building in suburban Malwani was an outcome of 'pure greed' and suggested the state authorities should draw inspiration from the 'Singapore model' of housing for the poor.

'It is only in Mumbai that one encroaches on government land and in return is given free housing. I asked the Chief Justice (who was earlier at the Calcutta HC) if such policy existed in West Bengal and the answer was a flat no,' Justice Kulkarni said.

The bench was presiding over a bunch of public interest litigations that it had initiated suo motu (on its own) following incidents of building collapse in Bhiwandi in Thane district last year.

The HC had started hearing the pleas again last month following a building collapse in Mumbai's suburb of Malwani, in which 12 people, including eight children, had died.

The HC had ordered a judicial inquiry into the Malwani incident and the preliminary report had said the residential building that collapsed was initially just a ground-plus-one structure.

Additional floors had been added to it illegally and the original allottee of the structure was not known, according to the report.

On Monday, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, who appeared for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), told the HC that most tenements in notified slum areas across the city had added additional floors illegally.

'The slums are a problem but also essential for the working for the city. So even if the state allows ground plus one floor in notified slum areas, it needs to put a stop to further floors to prevent instances of collapses,' Chinoy said.

The bench, however, said the working population of the city needn't live in slum tenements. It said the state could draw inspiration from the 'Singapore model' of housing for the poor.

'The situation has gone out of control. But we can't have policies that permit people to die. We have to value human life,' the HC said. 'Just because people say they have no where else to live, they can't be allowed to risk their lives and stay in illegal structures,' it said.

As per the existing slum rehabilitation provisions for the MMR, those living in slums built until January 1, 2000, are legally protected and can't be removed without a free rehabilitation tenement.

'In the present case (Malwani), there is no document to show who is the original allottee. There is no mechanism to check. It is pure greed,' HC said.

'The original allottee is an encroacher of government land, who received the ground floor for free. He then built more floors vertically and let them out on rent to meet his greed,' it said.

The HC will continue the hearing on Tuesday. PTI AYA RSY RSY

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