The Curious Case of the Campa Cola Compound

All of Mumbai is going to be on tenterhooks tomorrow, April 29, 2013. For those of you who are not aware, I am talking about the demolition planned for the buildings set up on the Campa Cola compound. The current situation does bring up some questions for which there are no clear answers.

First, a bit of history about this case, taken from a news clipping.In 1955, BMC leased the land to Pure Drinks Ltd. for establishing a factory. In 1980, it sought permission from the civic body to develop a large portion of the land for residential purposes, and signed an agreement with three builders to construct the seven buildings. Out of the seven, two are towers with 17 and 20 floors respectively, while three buildings have six floors each and two have seven floors.

According to BMC, the builders were permitted to construct only five floors and all the floors above that are illegal. The apex court, in its order on February 2013, permitted the BMC to demolish the unauthorised floors.

The demolition is scheduled for begin at 11:00 AM tomorrow (Monday) and BMC and our government wants to use this as an example of show that they will not tolerate any illegal construction beyond the stipulated rules and permissions given.

The argument to demolish unauthorized construction is correct. There can be no excuse to go ahead and justify it. However, having said that, it does bring to light certain points which I am not sure why they are not being addressed:

1. The BMC has collected Property Tax for all the floors or for just five floors, that they claim were permitted. If they have been happily collecting the amount since the last 30+ years, then while they are correct to demolish the extra floors, let us make it a point to also return back the Property Tax with interest to the residents. That is the only fair barter that can happen. You took something that you were not legally allowed to, so better return it back.

2. Anyone living in India and in a megapolis like Mumbai knows that unauthorized construction is not a new thing. However, let us just focus on this case. The residents have been residing here for more than 30 years, paying taxes and are we saying that demolition is the only way out. What about penalties and then regularizing it in some way? They are anyways not going to raze all the floors, the buildings are still going to stand where they are? So why can’t some solution other than demolition be found over here?

There are many other points that could be raked up. I might be unaware but it surely is confusing if the residents have not been able to enlist the services of good lawyers who can present their case with the above two points in mind, especially the first one? Not a day passes by where individuals have been able to enlist services of top lawyers and get cases in their favour, despite the odds. In this case, given the number of years that have passed, given that taxes have been collected and the fact there has to be some humanitarian angle considered for all this, it comes as a surprise that there cannot be a lawyer in this great country who can effectively argue this case.

Please let me know if I am misinformed and do not know all the details. I would love to know them.

Update: The BMC did give the residents a few more days of relief and the demolition is now planned for May 2. The Residents too tried a final attempt with the High Court, but it refused to intervene into a judgement that has been passed by the Supreme Court. I find the situation quite sad especially when the Supreme Court had a great opportunity to also punish the BMC and its officials for having collected the taxes, transfer fees for all these years. What kind of justice is this ?

Update – May 2, 2013: The court has given a further break to the residents of about 4-6 months, during which time they have to find alternate accommodation.

Update – November 12-13, 2013 : The demolition was planned for November 12 with no chance of going back since the Supreme Court made clear that it’s decision was final. The residents tried their best but to no avail. Any last hopes in the form of the Chief Minister of the State intervening via an ordinance, did not work out. What happened next is interesting to note. On the day of the demolition, the BMC appeared with their men, bulldozers and all the Engineering stuff to begin the demolition. The residents formed a wall to prevent them from entering. The wall included themselves, cars and the works to prevent the folks from entering. This lead to heated arguments, delays and the process went into another day.

On November 13, the Supreme Court once again intervened and put a stay to the proceedings. They gave another interim relief to the residents till May 2014. So the houses are safe for now but the issue is not solved.

Some parting comments. It is surprising to see how many times a Supreme Court can continue to go back and forth on its orders. It is interesting to note the methods used by the common public to prevent the government machinery from doing its work. I see an interesting pattern emerging from this. The Government Machinery and the good for nothing (except self) politicians have been given some sort of a subtle message here that pitched battles will be fought now by citizens against the folks who have been taking them for a ride. This could be a tipping point.

Update – June 5, 2014 :  May 2014 has come and gone. The residents again approached the Supreme Court of India in a final attempt to get a stay order. The Supreme Court dismissed it last week and thereby the last hopes of the residents seem to be extinguished. The BMC has given the residents 1 more week to hand over their keys. BMC says it will use force if the residents do not comply. I expect that the residents will stay put and resist the BMC machinery from coming in. This is definitely not a scenario that will be pleasing to watch and could have been avoided. Again these are my personal comments and I do believe that the Supreme Court had a great opportunity to put to task even the Government, the BMC Officials and the Builder – who are equal parties in this mess. I do believe their hands are tied too – it will open up a whole can of worms for the illegal constructions that are probably there in large number across the length and breadth of the country. They want to make a strong case that illegal construction is not to be allowed. If that is the case, give equal punishment to all the parties, not just the residents. And anyone who says that the residents are supposed to read all the documents, verify every permission and land records are living in a fool’s paradise.

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