The peculiar case of illegal encroachments in Mumbai and snail's pace of BMC

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The peculiar case of illegal encroachments in Mumbai and snail's pace of BMC

An RTI query on illegal encroachments in the city revealed that out of 52,154 complaints received by the BMC from January 2016 to July 2019, only 4,166 complaints were actively worked on.

The Dongri building collapse which claimed 13 lives and injured 25 people on Tuesday is still fresh in the minds of people. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a compensation of Rs five lakh for the kin of those killed in the incident and Rs 50,000 for the injured people.

As the blame game over the incident continued, a senior Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officer was suspended by the BMC on Friday. The suspended officer, Vivek Rahi, is a ward officer of the B-Ward, under which the Dongri area falls. However, the BMC did not explain how its officers were unaware that the four-storeyed building was an illegal structure.

Meanwhile, an RTI query on illegal encroachments in the city revealed some shocking facts. The details, obtained by RTI activist Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh, show that from January 1, 2016, to July 8, 2019, the BMC received 52,154 verified complaints about illegal construction and encroachments in Mumbai. Even more shocking is the fact that the BMC actively worked on only 4,166 complaints.

Out of more than 50,000 complaints, the BMC sent letters for the recovery of demolition dues to just over 4,000 owners. RTI activist Shakeel Ahmed said that only the letter sending work was done but no recovery has been made for them.

On reviewing the RTI copy, the figures showed:

> 94,851 complaints received on illegal structures and encroachments

> 52, 154 were verified complaints

> 4,166 complaints are pending for cost recovery

> 21,873: The total number of notices issued

> 6,108: The total number of demolitions arranged

> 5,461: The total number of demolitions done

> 12,157 complaints were closed

Gerson da Cunha, Convenor AGNI, said, "The figures are shocking but not unexpected. Most of the mushrooming structures in the city these days are illegal. There's no denying the fact that BMC officials too are corruptible. The need of the hour now is the awakened citizenship that gets such RTI figures for the city. There is a lot of hope from the new municipal commissioner who looks responsive to the complaints of the people."

The B-Ward, where the building recently collapsed in Dongri, still has 83 complaints pending for cost recovery.

Other wards where significant cost recovery is pending are 303 in Ward F North, 324 in Ward H West, 440 in Ward K East, 651 in Ward K West and 647 in Ward P South.

Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh said, "The concerned departments in the BMC themselves have become a racket. Officials, contractors and builders use the system and milk it to their benefit. The problem of illegal encroachment in the city is now reaching dangerous proportions. The only solution is that a robust system needs to be put in place. A mechanism has to be set up and we demand that the monitoring be done by an IAS ranked officer. Every year these matters come to light when a building collapses and then the officers conveniently forget about them. All this needs to change."

The opposition also pointed out that three civic officials of C-Ward were suspended last year as they failed to stop a nine-storeyed structure come up. That matter made headlines and even made its way to the Maharashtra assembly but the structure remains as it is as the BMC hasn't bothered to follow up. The matter is pending in court.

Congress leader in BMC, Ravi Raja said, "The time has now come when the responsibility has to be fixed. If there are officers who are not taking action on complaints or ignoring the complaints then strict action has to be taken accordingly. When BMC has such a critical responsibility then it has to act. There are numerous complaints of illegal encroachments pending with the BMC. Lessons should be learned from the Dongri incident."

The BMC officials could not be reached for their comments on the matter.