BMC’s desperate attempts to get occupants out of collapsing buildings

Residents insist on staying in collapsing buildings. In such cases, BMC will now disconnect electricity and water supply.

In the past three months, two buildings collapsed in Mumbai. At least 12 people died. These buildings were deemed unsafe for habitation. We wrote here about why tenants refuse to vacate crumbling buildings. 

About 300 persons died and 1146 injured in the seven years between 2013-19 in building collapses across the city, as per information received through RTI by activist Shakeel Sheikh.  

On September 21, about 40 people died, including 18 children, due to a building collapse in the neighbouring town of Bhiwandi. Thereafter the Bhiwandi-Nizampur Municipal Corporation disconnected electricity of three dilapidated buildings to force residents to vacate those structures. 

The mayor of Mumbai Kishori Pednekar asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to take a similar action against the tenants who refuse to vacate unsafe buildings at a meeting on August 31.

Residents of Mishra Building in Nagpada insisted on staying on even after a part of the ground-plus-two structure collapsed and killed two people on August 27. The BMC disconnected electricity and water supply to the 111 residents to get them to vacate the structure. 

Categories of buildings

C-1 – unsafe, dangerous, inhabitable, needs to be vacated and demolished
C-2A – partially unsafe, dangerous structures, requiring major structural repairs by partially vacating the dangerous part of structure
C- 2B  – Structures requiring major structural repairs without vacating the structure
C- 3 – Minor repairs

BMC has identified about 443 buildings as C-1 buildings that are classified as dangerous structures and are unfit for habitation. “Each time there is a building collapse and people lose their lives, the blame is squarely placed on the BMC for the loss of lives,” said Mayor Pednekar. 

“Though there are legal provisions to allow us to disconnect water and electricity, the officials tend to be reluctant to invoke them on humanitarian grounds,” she added. 

Now, the municipality has decided that enough is enough.

What the law says 

Residents of many old buildings would continue to stay put in dangerous buildings despite being served notices to vacate the structures. “There were provisions within the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 to disconnect electricity and water connection. But there have been orders by the Bombay High Court (HC) in 2013 which cited that since water and electricity were essential part of life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution, such disconnections ‘to hasten up the evacuation process’ could not be permissible,” said Advocate Veer Kankaria of the Bombay High Court. 

But the following year, the High Court allowed disconnections and even suggested some guidelines on how to go about the evacuation process of unsafe buildings. The BMC issued fresh policy guidelines in 2017 about dealing with dangerous C-1 category buildings that included provisions to serve notices to evacuate occupants, disconnect supplies in case they fail to do that and even take police help to get them to evacuate in order to safeguard their lives.

Demolition drive

Across the city, 443 buildings are declared as C-1 by the BMC, which are in various stages of procedures for eviction. “Some might have got stay orders, yet others might have taken up repairs and yet others must have submitted papers. We ask them to vacate the structures under Section 354 – A of the MMC Act, 1888 within seven days,” says a BMC official from the Removal of Encroachment section, under condition of anonymity. “The owners are expected to demolish and redevelop their own structures. Demolition of a building is a costly exercise and this year we have not yet demolished any building,” he added.  

As per the BMC’s guidelines, in case the owner fails to demolish the unsafe structure himself, the BMC can initiate demolitions at the risk and cost of the owner and occupants. 

The BMC won’t be responsible for providing any alternate accomodation for the residents. Cessed buildings (those that pay repair cess tax) are governed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), fare better. For them, providing accomodation before vacation is a prerequisite. “We do not have resources to provide alternative housing. They are expected to find a house themselves,” the BMC official stated.  

The MHADA’s, Mumbai Building Repair and Reconstruction Board (MBRRB) governs 14,207 cessed buildings (March 2018 figure). “We have a team that gets cessed buildings vacated. The residents are provided with transit camps before demolition. Only the upper sections are demolished, to avoid the land being encroached upon,” explains Vinod Ghosalkar, chairman of the MBRRB. 

Matherpackady. Photo: Mumbai Paused.

Legal transgressions

According to the law, only when the authorities are fully convinced that continuing to stay in the building will definitely cause deaths, should they disconnect services. “However the real issue here is about how the system gets misused due to corruption,” says Chandrashekhar Prabhu, housing activist and former president of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). “There have been instances of officials declaring perfectly livable buildings as dilapidated to get it demolished to claim more Floor Space Index (FSI). Sometimes, landlords deliberately delay repairs to get their buildings declared as unsafe in order to get tenants to vacate,” he adds. 

Prabhu recalls an instance where a building was declared fit for living by IIT-B experts after spending Rs 20 crore on repairs. When the law granting more FSI to dangerous buildings came into effect, the very same building was soon declared as C-1 or dangerous and demolished before the residents could get together to protest the move. 

The High Court made a similar observation. In its 2014 order it noted “…at times the landlords wait for a situation where the tenants/occupants are required to vacate forcibly pursuant to the Section 354 notice for demolition of the building and they are in a more advantageous position to negotiate and eventually offer a raw deal to the tenants/occupants for surrender of their premises to them.” 

MHADA should try to salvage the structure and only if that cannot be done, then allow disconnection after ensuring local accomodation is provided, according to Raj Purohit, former MLA and Founder, Mumbai Bhadekaru Ekta Sangh. “In such circumstances, it’s not fair to send South Mumbai’s Chira Bazaar residents to far flung transit camps in Chembur, which are not fit for human habitation,” he adds.    

Maharashtra’s Legislative  Assembly passed a new law on September 9, 2020. According to that, MHADA will be responsible for the tenants of cessed buildings right till the time that they are rehabilitated in their new homes. “This should ensure protection for a lot of tenants, who are left out in the winds when developers fail to complete projects after demolishing their old homes,”  says Amin Patel, Congress legislator from Mumbadevi constituency which is home to many dilapidated buildings. 

MHADA can also intervene if tenants and landlords of private cessed buildings fail to redevelop buildings and even take up redevelopment.

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