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December 16, 2017
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25,000 Buildings Unsafe, but Residents Want to be in Core City.

Mumbai’s Monsoon is Marked by a Building Collapse almost every Year, but Residents in 17,000 Unsafe Structures in the City who have Received a Municipal Evacuation Notice are Not Ready to Move Out.

Officially, there is no Comprehensive Audit of all Unsafe Structures in the Bustling Metro, & Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Officials have only a Crude Estimate of about 25,000 Buildings that are Dilapidated. 1 of them, the Husseini Building, Collapsed in the Bhendi Bazaar Area recently Killing at least 33 People & Injuring around 15.

Neglected by Owners

Mumbai has many Buildings over a Century Old. Not all are in Bad Shape, but many have been Neglected by their Owners & are Visibly Decrepit. Many are Beyond Salvage through Maintenance or even a Serious Overhaul, Making Demolition the Only Option Available, Followed by Redevelopment.

Even when the Buildings are on the Verge of Collapse, & have been Officially Declared Dangerous, & there are Approved Redevelopment Plans that Provide Transit Accommodation, they Resist.

They do not Trust the Government, the Owners, or the Builders who have Won Redevelopment Contracts. Some Relocated Families have been in Transit Accommodation for a Decade, Facing Uncertainty over Possession of a Redeveloped House.

Some of the Buildings are Slumps’, Housing Units Built by Mills or other Industries, & Rented Out to Workers, whose Descendants Still Live there, Long after the Mills Closed or Moved Out. Others are Owned by Individuals or Families, Built Many Decades ago & Rented Out as Dwellings or Commercial Units. Neglect has Left them Crumbling.

Rent Hurdle

State Law Makes it Impossible for Owners with Old Rent Agreements to Increase Rents from the Paltry Amounts Fixed Decades ago or to Get Tenants to Vacate, or even Sell the Property Without Compensation for Tenants.

Residents simply Do Not Want to Move, Because Renting or Buying in the Same Area at Market Rates is not Feasible. Prakash Reddy, General Secretary, Brihanmumbai Tenant Council (BTC), says, “The Majority of [the Affected People] are from the Lower Middle Class, & they Cannot Afford to Move Out on their Own & Rent a House at Today’s Prices in South Mumbai.”

The Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority (MHADA) is Responsible for Repair & Reconstruction of old Slumps. Sayed Aslam, who has Championed Housing for 30 Years now, says, “Once a Building is Declared Dilapidated, it is MHADA’s Responsibility to Ensure that the Residents are Evacuated, Forcibly if Necessary, with Police Help. The MHADA also has to Ensure that the Redevelopment Project is Completed within the Specified Time Limit, & Can Demand an Explanation from the Builder if this Does Not Happen.” In Reality, Residents Spend Years Chasing Builders, who Either Evade them or Keep Making Empty Promises.

Regulator to Monitor Builders

Minister of State for Housing Ravindra Waikar Acknowledges that for many Years now, Builders got a Free Hand. “This Government is Committed to Giving Justice to Tenants. We have Taken Up Steps such as Implementation of Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) to Keep a Check on Builders. We want to Assure that we will soon Come Up with Comprehensive Plan which will Speed up the Process of Redevelopment of Old Buildings,” he said.Thanks to the Government’s Lackluster Track Record, Residents Fear their Lives will be Uprooted for Indefinite Periods – Well Beyond the Year or 2 that it Takes for a New Building to Come Up. Santosh Gupta, an Affordable Housing Activist from Worli, says, “I Know of People who have been Staying in Transit Camps for over 10 Years with no News About when their Redeveloped Buildings will be Ready. I Went Through the Same Plight Before I Could Save Enough to Move Out.”

A Major Factor is Location: the Transit Camps Tend to be Far Away from the Original Homes. Mr. Gupta says, “A Person has to Move his Entire Family when such Redevelopment Projects are Announced, but there is no Guarantee about when he Will Get His Life Back.” Often, Tenants do not Find Alternative Accommodations Suitable & Demand Better Options. The Landlords are either Unable or Unwilling to Comply.In the Case of the recent Husseini Building Collapse, the Families which had continued to Live there had Rejected Transit Accommodation Offered by Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (which is Redeveloping the Entire Neighborhood) in not-too-Distant Reay Road. They said the Site had Poor Connectivity. Proximity to Workplaces & Schools are Sticking Points.

Mr. Reddy says that the BTC has Given a Proposal to the Maharashtra Government to Set Up Transit Camps near the Original Residence, but Got no Response. When asked about this, Mr Waikar said he would Look into the Proposal.

Mr. Reddy says Residents don’t want to go through a Complete Overhaul when the Government has Failed to Keep a Check on the Builders in Redevelopment Projects. Datta Iswalkar, President of Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, Agrees. “Who Controls the Builders? No one. Once Ousted from Prime Locations in South Mumbai, these People Have No Guarantee that they will Come Back.”