The Supreme Court of India in Delhi has blasted what it says is a lax attitude throughout the country toward demolishing illegally constructed buildings developed and owned by the affluent and wealthy while municipal authorities regularly tear down illegal slums and hutments occupied by the poor and desperate.
The comments, though pertaining to an unrelated case, follow the death of 11 people in Pune about 150 kilometres southeast of Mumbai after a building collapse on what many suspect was an illegal construction site, with suspicion swirling that political patronage lay behind a lack of action against unauthorised buildings.
In a judgement released on Monday, Supreme Court Judge G.S. Singhvi held nothing back as he lashed out at the ‘monstrous proportion’ of illegal structures which had gone up throughout India.
“In last four decades, the menace of illegal and unauthorised constructions of buildings and other structures in different parts of the country has acquired monstrous proportion,” the judgement reads. “This court has repeatedly emphasized the importance of planned development of the cities and either approved the orders passed by the High Court or itself gave directions for demolition of illegal constructions.”
The case in question concerned a two-storey development in Kolkata which was sanctioned in 1990. A later investigation by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) in 2009 found that an RCC column up to the thirdfloor had been erected in deviation of the sanctioned two-storey plan, as had a staircase.
Subsequently, in an act of brazen defiance of a stop-work order, the property owner added an additional floor, an act for which the court imposed a fine of 25 lakh rupees (AUD$46,615).
Despite praising what he noted was a swift response by KMC with regard to this case, Singhvi blasted what he sees as a general lax attitude among municipal authorities throughout the country toward the demolition of apartment buildings developed and/or owned by wealthy or affluent individuals.
“What needs to be emphasised is that illegal and unauthorised constructions of buildings and other structure not only violates the municipal laws and the concept of planned development of the particular area but also affect various fundamental and constitutional rights of other persons,” he says. “The common man feels cheated when he finds that those making illegal and unauthorised constructions are supported by the people entrusted with the duty of preparing and executing master plan/development plan/zonal plan.”
Singhvi added that the demolition of hutments belonging to disadvantaged parts of society receive plenty of media attention, but noted that the demolition of multi-storey buildings owned by more affluent people often goes unreported.
“The failure of the State apparatus to take prompt action to demolish such illegal constructions has convinced the citizens that planning laws are enforced only against poor and all compromises are made by the State machinery when it is required to deal with those who have money power or unholy nexus with the power corridors,” he says.
Singhvi’s comments follow the collapse last month of a three-storey building in Dhankawadi near Pune, southwest of Mumbai, in which 11 people were killed.
Opposition parties and civic activists there claim the ruling NCP-Congress party had protected illegal constructors and had sidelined one of their own, municipal commissioner Mahesh Zagade, after he proposed a committee that would look into illegal building activity and associated issues pertaining to building permission and administrative failure.