The Bombay High Court on Thursday said it will not allow unauthorised buildings to take the life of even one “innocent person”, while taking a serious note of the dangers posed by such structures. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik was hearing a petition filed by three residents from neighbouring Thane, who had sought the demolition of nine unauthorised buildings in Mumbra that were being inhabited by several families, to avoid any untoward incident or loss of life.
The bench asked the state government why a 1998 government resolution, which was still being implemented, restrained civic authorities from demolishing unauthorised structures during the monsoon season. “Is demolishing an unauthorised building riskier during the rains? What is the logic behind the GR?” the court asked. The petitioners, one of whom is a state witness in the 2013 ‘Lucky Compound’ building collapse in which 76 people were killed, approached the court through advocate Neeta Karnik. On Thursday, Karnik told the court that though the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) had served several demolition notices to the unauthorised structures, and had even cut off power and water supply, residents continued to live there and had even managed to access power and water through illegal channels. The TMC’s counsel Ram Apte confirmed that the civic body had sent several demolition notices to the nine buildings, but residents had refused to vacate.
Karnik said that the buildings in question were dilapidated and unfit for inhabitation. Advocate Suhas Oak, who appeared for the residents of the said buildings, urged the court to take a “humanitarian view”, and stop the TMC from demolishing the buildings at least till the end of monsoon season. To this, the court said, “We are on humanitarian ground already, as we want you to live. One building that collapses might take with it several lives, and also bring down neighbouring buildings.” “We will not allow an unauthorised building to take the life of even one innocent person,” the high court said.
In December 2021, the court had passed a detailed order in a suo motu (on its own) PIL asking the Maharashtra government to demolish all unauthorised buildings on public land across the state. “Your clients should have been aware of it (the order). What is the purpose of us passing 150 pages long orders otherwise?” the court said.
The bench then directed that the “senior-most member” of each family residing in these nine buildings must give an undertaking by this evening stating that all residents will vacate the structures by August 31. Oak argued that the subject of the petition was only nine buildings. “At least 90 per cent of buildings in Mumbra are unauthorised. In such a case, the government needs to devise a uniform policy,” he said. The high court, however, said that while a policy should come into force, one couldn’t say that in the meantime, let unauthorised development continue. The bench in an oral direction said that the TMC can refrain from carrying out the demolition action against the nine buildings till August 31.