ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Demolishing Legality

The road to urban disaster is paved with incidents like the Campa Cola stand-off.

The high drama and the excessive media focus on a small part of the enormous metropolis of Mumbai has set several disturbing precedents, all of them detrimental to the future of any kind of sane or planned urban development. Once you separate the rhetoric and high emotion from the reality, the problem is, and has always been, a fairly straightforward one. When Pure Drinks, the company that used to market the drink Campa Cola, in the late 1970s closed its bottling plant in Worli in what was then Bombay, it sought permission to build residential structures on the land it had leased from the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) in 1955. In 1980, this permission was granted and work began. Between 1981 and 1989, seven buildings were constructed on this plot, which was even then a prime location. The only problem was that the BMC had given permission for only five floors for each building. Yet, no one stopped a 20-floor building and another with 17 floors coming up on the plot. We hear now that the builders were warned and even asked to stop work at various times. But once a fine was paid, work could continue unobstructed. Also, despite this violation of the permission, middle- and upper-class buyers snapped up the property as it was available at lower prices. They willingly suspended any niggling doubts when told that the “irregularity” would soon be sorted out.

That did not happen. Within a few years of moving in, residents would have known that there was a problem. They were not getting municipal water because they did not have an occupation certificate. For years, they lived on tanker water. Confident that the courts would give them a hearing, the residents moved the Bombay High Court in 1999 asking that the water supply be connected and their illegal status be “regularised”. Instead, the high court held in 2005 that as the floors above the fifth floor were illegal, they would have to be demolished.

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