Making of An Unauthorised Township: How a Building Collapse Raised Alarm Bells in Greater Noida
After the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority declared more than a hundred buildings illegal, home buyers who had flocked to Shahberi village and got flats at moderate prices are now shattered.
File photo of the two buildings that had collapsed in Shahberi, Greater Noida. (News18)
New Delhi: It was the night of July 17, 2018. Laxmi Goswami was having dinner with her family in their newly purchased house in Greater Noida’s Shahberi village. They were shaken by a sudden thud. Rushing out of their house, they found a huge cloud of dust engulfing the area with negligible visibility. Half an hour later, when the dust settled, Goswami and her neighbours realised that the two buildings next to theirs, had fallen to the ground. As she found out later, the building collapse resulted in the death of nine people.
Soon after, officials of the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA), who had till now turned their back on the rapid construction of unauthorised residential buildings in Shahberi, declared more than a hundred buildings in the 150 hectare area as illegal. “On July 17, two buildings in Shahberi village of Greater Noida collapsed. Prima facie, it is clear that the building layout plans were not approved by the GNIDA and no application for their approval was submitted,” GNIDA said in a statement.
In 2014, the Supreme Court had asked the authorities to maintain status quo on the land as it was disputed. Farmers, who were also the owners of the land, sold it to small-time builders who then constructed a residential colony on it. Since the apartments were sold at prices as low as Rs 20-25 lakh (for a two-BHK flat), buyers flocked to Shahberi, situated about 40km outside Delhi. Devoid of motorable roads and proper sewage facilities, Shahberi has become a township of 400 buildings where close to 1,25,000 people reside.
After the building collapse last year, the GNIDA ordered an inquiry into the matter of illegal construction and announced that a team would be set up to ascertain which buildings had flouted rules. Since then, FIRs have been registered against several builders, while many have fled the area. Even a year after the tragedy, the probe has yielded no result. An official in the GNIDA said an investigation was conducted by the additional district magistrate into the unauthorised construction, but no findings have been made public yet.
Ajay Shukla, a resident of Shahberi, wondered why the authorities did not do anything for five years when the buildings were coming up. “Between 2013 and 2018, nearly 400 buildings were built and sold to buyers. The authorities did not say anything at that time. Our houses are registered, we easily got loans from banks and we have been living here for more than two years now. Two buildings collapse and the authorities now realise that all these buildings are illegal. This is unfair,” he said.
Shukla, who came from Meerut, took a loan of Rs 15 Lakh for the apartment in Shahberi and now, pays a monthly instalment of Rs 15,000. He said he had no idea where he would live if the authorities demolish the building.
Another senior official accepted that there were lapses on the part of the government. After an investigation into the illegal construction in Shahberi, the GNIDA suspended two officials, while three others were terminated. The senior superintendent of police (SSP) also ordered action against 10 policemen who allegedly took bribes from builders to let them ahead with the constructions.
In July, local newspapers had reported that the authorities have declared all the buildings in Shahberi as illegal and they would be demolished. Since then about 500 residents have been demonstrating against the proposed move. During one such protest on August 14, about 25 people, including a minor, were detained. They were released a day later.
KK Gupta, Additional Chief Executive Officer at the GNIDA, said the buyers should seek compensation from the builders and move court. “These residents have become victims of a fraud. Builders sold unsafe houses to these desperate buyers and have now run away. The court had already announced status quo on this land in 2014, which makes these buildings unauthorised. The residents should take these builders to court and seek compensation. We will personally provide lawyers to the buyers. They wouldn’t have to spend a single rupee,” he said.
Talking about what would now happen to the buildings in the area, he said, “We did not clear the maps for any of these buildings. Hence, we will set up a team of engineers from the IIT and decide which buildings are unsafe. The government will then decide what will be done to the people living in those buildings”.
According to Abhinav Dhar, another resident of Shahberi, the government was keen to take away their land and give it to big builders for construction of high-rise buildings in the area. He said, “They want us to fight the builders while they take away our homes. Most of the builders have run away. Even if we find them, it will take us years to get any money from them. Till then where do we go? We have already invested our life’s savings in these flats”.
Gupta said, “We are taking actions against the builders, we don’t have any intention to harass the buyers.” He added 70 FIRs have been registered by the authorities against the builders for violating laws.
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