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Supreme Court halts Mumbai homes demolition

Nationwide TV audience cheers as bulldozers are stopped

  • Poulomi Saha, Mumbai
  • India
  • November 14, 2013
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India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday halted the planned demolition of an illegally constructed housing complex, ending a tense standoff between residents and the bulldozers that came to raze their homes.

The dispute is not over for the nearly 140 families residing in the Campa Cola compound in Mumbai as the Supreme Court issued a stay of demolition until further notice. The court ruled the compound could not be destroyed until a suitable alternative was provided for residents.

Local resident Shanaya Irani said she felt rejuvenated after many months of sleepless nights.

“I and my sister were born in this house. It has memories. It is traumatizing to lose your home like this, especially when we’ve paid our taxes and have been law abiding citizens. Why the hurry to break down these homes?” Shanaya asked.

The 23-year-old and her family were among the crowd of residents and supporters who defiantly blocked the gates of the Campa Cola compound on Tuesday, preventing bulldozers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corp, a government authority, from entering the grounds.

A daylong battle ensued, with police called in to unsuccessfully remove protesters and allow the demolition to begin. Every time the bulldozer’s engines whirred, chants of “we want justice” would ring through the air. The standoff continued until the Supreme Court’s decision came down a day later.

On Wednesday, the bulldozers broke through the gates and were preparing to begin demolishing when the court’s decision was announced.

Residents wept and embraced as the municipal corporation backed down.

“This is completely unexpected. I’m shocked beyond words,” one resident told ucanews.com.

Indian citizens nationwide watched the standoff unfold on TV, with viewers calling in to news channels to express their solidarity with the affected families, saying the residents were cheated by a corrupt system.

Residents of the compound, some of whom have lived there for 25 years, purchased the flats legally and remained current on their property taxes. However most had not received a certificate of occupancy as many of the flats, particularly those on higher floors of a few high-rise buildings had been constructed illegally.

The Supreme Court ordered India’s attorney general to return on November 19 with a concrete plan for the resident’s future. A statement from the attorney general’s office suggested the possibility of building an alternate residence within the same premises.

Still residents directed their anger at the government for allowing the issue to grow into a full blown crisis that could have left them destitute.

“Where was [the government] when these 35 illegal floors were being built? Were they sleeping? Or were they collecting money [from the builder]?” asked V Srinivas, an 11-year Campa Cola resident.

His home, one of the flats considered illegal, is on the 19th floor of the Midtown Apartments, one of seven buildings housing illegal flats. Srinivas has been one of the leaders of the revolt. Residents set up a committee that has petitioned every authority in Maharashtra state and New Delhi to stop the demolition.

The residents said they are the victims of a corrupt system that turned a blind eye for more than 25 years to a series of violations by the builder. Now they believe they are again falling prey to an alleged builder-government conspiracy that has set its eye on the prime city property on which their compound stands.

“There are at least two real estate developers” who stand to benefit from this demolition, Srinivas said.

He also questioned how quickly the request for demolition was approved by government and judicial authorities, prior to Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling.

“How else is it possible in a country like India, infamous for its slow judicial process, that our case reaches a final conclusion having gone through appeals from the lowest to the highest authority within three years?” he said.

According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corp statistics, there are more than 50,000 illegal buildings in Mumbai.

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