23 March 2016, Mumbai: While browsing through my old emails, I found the following letter drafted by some of my fellow activists to the powers-that-be a few years back, when Prithviraj Chavan was Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and Sitaram Kunte was the Municipal Commissioner. Methinks this letter is as relevant today as when it was written, back in December 2013. Activist friends like Abbaas Rizvi, who have been working to thwart the encroachment mafias in Mumbai, tell me that the issues that this letter points out are still as bad as ever.
And so, I am reproducing this letter here for everyone to read, and hopefully to copy-paste onto their own letterhead, sign and send to the Chief Minister and our civic bosses.
- Hon’ble Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mantralaya
- Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, Mantralaya
- Principal Secretary-I, Urban Development Dept
- Municipal Commissioner, BMC Head Office, Mahapalika Marg.
Sub- (A) Fraudulent MCGM Circular (No. AC/RE/804 dated 04/06/2013 ) endangers the life and physical safety of citizens and is designed to sabotage citizens’ efforts to fight illegal constructions in Greater Mumbai
(B) Circular is contrary to the mandate of the Hon'ble Bombay High Court (In WP No. 2950 of 2012).
(C) Circular is an attempt to sabotage the newly inserted jail and fine provisions in the MCGM Act and the MRTP Act for not acting on the complaints against illegal constructions
1) A Circular bearing No. AC/RE/804 dated 04/06/2013 was issued by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai on the subject of “Procedural Guidelines for conduct of business of Zonal level Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) in MCGM”. We attach herewith the said 2013 Circular. The said Circular purports to be in pursuance of Hon'ble Bombay High Court directions in WP No. 2950 of 2012 which directed the BMC to set up proper mechanism for redressal of grievances pertaining to illegal constructions. This fraudulent MCGM Circular endangers the life and physical safety of well meaning citizens/NGOs and effectively sabotages citizens’ efforts to fight illegal constructions. Further, the said Circular is contrary to the mandate of Hon'ble Bombay High Court. This Circular has been instigated by the builder lobby in connivance with the authorities to protect unauthorised constructions, additions and modifications in violation of approved plans and the DCR. The Order of the High Court is deliberately distorted and manipulated to protect the interests of the builder lobby indulging in illegal constructions in connivance with the authorities and kill all complaints pertaining to illegal constructions. The Circular is an attempt to sabotage the newly inserted jail and fine provisions in the MCGM Act and the MRTP Act for not acting on the complaints against illegal constructions. The MCGM is shooting the said fraudulent Circular from the shoulders of the Hon’ble High Court by distorting its Order. We attach herewith the Order of the Bombay High Court.
2) In its Judgement dated 10th December, 2012 in the matter of the Writ Petition No. 2950 of 2012 (Lodging No. 2339 of 2012 - Mazhar Hussain V/s Mumbai Municipal Corporation & Ors.) the Hon’ble Bombay High Court after disposing of the grievance of the Petitioner, has expressed its concern that:
We may place on record that similar grievances have been made in large number of matters, in which, the court is required to pass similar orders in at least couple of matters everyday against the Corporation. It would be appropriate that Corporation evolves some internal correctional mechanism (emphasis provided) which would bring quietus to at least some of the complaints one way or the other. If such complaint is received by the official who is authorised to take decision thereon, he is expected to proceed in the matter in accordance with law expeditiously in any case within a reasonable time and not to keep the complaint pending for over two years as has happened in the present case.
We hope and trust that the Commissioner will examine this aspect of the matter and issue directions and provide a proper mechanism for redressal of such grievances at different level across the Corporation.
From the above observations of the High Court it is very clear that as per the High Court direction, MCGM was mandated to evolve some internal correctional mechanism for expeditious tackling of complaints from the public and for that matter the Commissioner was required to issue direction and provide proper internal mechanism to be followed at all levels across the Corporation. In other words, the High Court has sought setting up of an internal mechanism within the Corporation so that all complaints from the public in whatever form can be tackled by it in a systematic and expeditious way.
3) With the Corporation, being the planning and the regulatory authority in the city of Mumbai, having full internal infrastructure, manpower resources, full information and the records as regards the approved plans, status of approvals of each stage of the construction in respect of all under construction buildings, whether IOD/CC granted, whether occupation certificate granted, the city survey numbers of the plots, etc., is in the eminent position to respond to and tackle each and every complaint regarding unauthorised constructions of all kinds on its own on mere receipt of a simple complaint - not to mention the Corporation’s statutory obligation to suo moto detect and tackle all illegal and unauthorized constructions in the city.
4) However, contrary to and in violation of the aforesaid observations and the mandate of the High Court in the said Writ Petition, in the said Circular the Corporation has passed on the entire burden of proving unauthorised construction on to the complainant himself rather than investigating the same through its own means. A Complaint format/procedure is deliberately created (which was never envisaged by the High Court) to discourage citizens from filing Complaints.
5) The following amendments to Acts were carried out and Circulars issued-
i) The BMC Act/MRTP Act were inter alia amended on 13th March, 2012 to appoint Designated Officers (DO) to tackle illegal constructions, modifications etc. The Amending Act stipulates punishment (jail and fine) for failure to take action.
ii) On 4/4/2013, BMC issued a Circular appointing 65 DOs.
iii) A Circular dated 4/6/2013 was issued by the Municipal Corporation which lays down procedural guidelines for conduct of business of Zonal level Grievances Redressal Committee (GRC) in MCGM.
6) The said Circular seeks to introduce a Complaint format and procedure which is summarized below-
a) The Complainant is required to file Complaint in prescribed "Form A" to the DO of the ward with documentary proof which includes full information like complete details of the unauthorised work such as nature of work, number of unauthorised floors/rooms with approx area, name of owner of structure, relation with the owner and reasons for filing Complaint, etc. and also evidence on the basis of which said construction is illegal/unauthorized and copy of photo identity proof. If no documents/proofs are submitted, the Complaint is rejected summarily.
b) Further, the Complainant can file Complaint against the DO in prescribed "Form B" for failure to initiate action.
c) Subsequently, in the hearing of Zonal level Grievances Redressal Committee, "to follow the principles of natural justice, owners/occupiers against whom the Complaint/notice is made/issued, may be called to attend the hearing".
7) We recently received an anonymous letter on rampant illegal constructions in areas like Pydhonie, Dongri, Bhendi Bazaar, Nagpada, JJ Marg, Madanpura, etc., where Mumbai's notorious underworld is actively involved in connivance with the authorities. The said letter has referred to about 10 specific cases of illegal constructions. Incidentally, none of the proposed buildings have displayed City Survey numbers at the site to avoid scrutiny under the RTI Act. Should we investigate the above cases and/or file Complaints in these cases of illegal constructions where the notorious underworld is involved and endanger our lives in view of recent June 2013 Circular which is a threat to citizen's life? Recently, it was reported in the media that an activist was killed in Bhiwandi for complaining against illegal construction.
8) This Circular is a threat to the life of the complainants who file complaints against illegal constructions in public interest without being personally affected. Honest citizens are now forced to meet and face the lawbreakers/builder mafia/underworld in the GRC hearing which exposes them to threats, harassment and murder or even settlement. This Circular effectively puts the onus of conducting an investigation onto the citizens who are not technically qualified nor do they have in depth knowledge of building rules and legal procedures rather than the officials who are on the payroll of the MCGM and who are very often colluding with the lawbreakers.
9) An ordinary citizen can only report the activity of illegal construction happening in the area. Such ordinary citizens are not expected to file RTI applications (after searching for City Survey numbers), peruse building files and further investigate and file complaints in detail. Public spirited citizens/NGOs file complaints against illegal constructions in some detail after perusing building files under the RTI Act in the interest of the city and subsequently it is the duty of the Building Proposals dept and local Building departments (both of whom are the most corrupt) for initiating appropriate measures against unauthorised building activities including encroachments, change of user, etc which have become a threat to planned development of the city. A citizen cannot or is not permitted to enter the premises or the building/land where the illegal construction is going on and it would be impossible for him to obtain and furnish the detailed information as per the said prescribed Forms.
10) It is pertinent to note that MCGM has not created any internal correctional mechanism as mandated by the High Court. There is no set up to effectively tackle mushrooming illegal constructions. This is evident from our experience with regard to persistent complaints concerning rampant and gross violations of the DCR in about 50 buildings/projects in JVPD Scheme. There was absolutely no action despite meetings with officials of K West Municipal Ward with evidence in specific cases and the developers carried on their illegal activities without any fear of law. There is only one case of action that too due to High Court intervention after repeated complaints by a citizen. This despite the fact that an internal report of MCGM itself states that "most of JVPD plot owners blatantly misused the floor space index (FSI) allowed for individual plots. The local ward office should be immediately directed to take action against the unauthorized constructions and submit a report within three months". Despite this report, there is not a single case of action against illegal constructions in JVPD either departmentally or on the basis of Complaints (either before or after the said Circular).
11) In view of the seriousness of the matter, we request your goodself to direct the Municipal Commissioner to do the following-
a) The said fraudulent MCGM Circular should be urgently revoked/cancelled as it has the potential to discourage whistle-blowers, shield corrupt officers, and encourage builder mafia to indulge in greater illegal constructions with impunity which will destroy the great city of Mumbai.
b) MCGM should create internal correctional mechanism as mandated by the High Court to effectively tackle the menace of illegal constructions in Mumbai
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