Refugees of Redevelopment: Who Gives a Fuck?
12th August, 2016: In today's mumbai Mirror, there's this frontpage story headlined, "Buyers Hire Rock Climbers to Enter Flats that Builder won't Hand Over". One empathizes with the desperation that triggered a dozen home buyers in Powai's Tej society, a redevelopment project of Shwet Realtors... but their adventurous act is likely to land them into trouble. Yes, this move succeeded in focusing public attention on the plight of the home owners and the defaults of Shwet Realtors in particular, but nevertheless, the police will probably register an FIR for "House Trespass" and related offences against the home-buyers and the rock-climber, and promptly issue arrest warrants. The fact that the redeveloper delayed possession of the flats for years will not cut ice, because the police or magistrate view the builder's actions as a "civil dispute", and the buyers' actions as a "criminal offence". Bottomline: Our system is unsympathetic to thousands of families who are turned into homeless refugees by builders. Nobody gives a fuck when a home-owner and his family members turn into destitutes and sink into poverty after the builder deprives them of their home (or, in case of the investors, their life-savings).
There's another news item in today's TOI headlined "MD, partner of realty firm arrested for delay in handing over flats". It warms the heart to read that Darshan Lalkit Gandhi and his partner Natwarlal Banka of Lok Group were arrested for failing to hand over possession of flats in time. Whenever we read media stories that police registered an FIR against a builder for cheating investors, we feel happy, because it is unusual and gives us a tiny ray of hope. But this headline is of the Man-bites-dog variety. Such news does not change the basic ground reality that hundreds of builders are routinely cheating lakhs of people in redevelopment projects, and are usually not even questioned by the police – forget about trial and punishment. Refugees of redevelopment have negligible hope of getting justice from police or criminal courts. A majority of redevelopment refugees don't even raise their voices to complain, because they know that the system favours builders. Their builder has taken away their control over their own destiny, and is causing grave loss and grievous injury to them, but they cannot complain to anybody. The numbers of such financially-wounded refugees in our cities swells by a few thousand every year, as the economics of the realty sector deteriorates year after year, making many redevelopment projects signed in previous years unviable; but still, the government insists on give preference to the builders' right to make profit and ignore the flat-owners' right to lead a peaceful existence.
How does redevelopment cause grave losses and grievous injury to flat-owners, you may ask. If you really care, then read on:
Thousands of families of redevelopment refugees are living on leave-and-license many years after their house has been demolished, and the builder has long since stopped paying the rent. Thousands of schoolgoing kids, who were once well-to-do and secure have seen their houses demolished in the name of redevelopment, and now they spend their entire teenage and youth years shifting from one tiny rented house to another. Many such child-refugees reach their late twenties and thirties without getting married, waiting for possession of their house. The marriage prospects of male redevelopment refugees are spoiled as few young women want to marrying into a family that shifts residence every 11 months. Child-refugees of redevelopment experience redevelopment as a curse that robbed them of their childhood and youth... and yet, even after hurting them and their families so badly, the builders are unreachable, unaccountable and unanswerable. Police won't even register a case under MOFA against such builders, despite the recent circular issued on 1st July 2016, because these people have not paid any money to the builder; they have only turned over their entire house to him.
Thousands of pensioners' houses have been demolished in the name of redevelopment although they didn't want a new or larger flat; they just wanted to spend their sunset years in peace and security in their own houses. But they were hounded out of their own houses by their housing society office-bearers, eager for the rewards of redevelopment. Such pensioners are living with relatives, languishing in distant old-age homes or shifting from one leave-and-license flat to another, wondering when all this will end. For elderly redevelopment refugees, redevelopment is a curse that robs them of their peaceful old age. Many will die as destitutes or in abject poverty.
are thousands of redevelopment refugees keeping quiet? Why aren't
they coming out on the roads? Why
aren't they all going to the police, or to magistrates, or marching
to Mantralaya in large numbers? There are many reasons for their
|For many families, redevelopment only means forcible eviction from (and destruction of) the house that they have, without necessarily replacing it with another house!|
Reason # 1: "We ourselves signed and agreed to this builder! Now how to oppose him?"
Flat-owners were made to sign on society's resolutions, minutes of meetings, consent forms, agreements and power-of-attorney that gives the builder the legal powers to dispossess them of their property. They repeatedly signed, without proper knowledge, various documents with clauses (such as arbitraton clauses) that systematically deprived them of their right to legal recourse. Today, these people feel that by giving all these signatures, they have "cut off their hands and given them to the builder and/or to their society's office bearers". They are convinced that they have no legal rights... and the fact is, they may not be far from the truth! The government and the judiciary assumes that if so many adult and sane persons sign so many documents one after another, relinquishing control over their property worth crores, they must know what they are doing! How can anybody explain to government and judiciary that a society's general body has the collective IQ of a kindergarten child, and the cunning builder-PMC-office-bearers nexus hypnotizes them into making horribly bad financial decisions without a second glance?
Reason # 2: "Flat belongs to cooperative society, so general body & managing committee have decided to redevelop."
According to law, you are not the owner of your own flat, because the real owner of the flats is the cooperative society i.e. the general body represented by the elected managing committee. You can enjoy using the flat as a members of the society. This fiction of collective ownership, combined with the sheepish nature of most general body members, enables the chairman and secretary to abuse their position and lead the society to the slaughterhouse, no questions asked! The few who raise their voices and ask questions are silenced by using the power of the sheepish majority. Experienced PMCs (Project Management Consultants) show the office-bearers how to do this in a ruthlessly systematic way.
Reason # 3: "Redevelopment is NOT a cooperative activity, because redevelopment is not one of the objects of the housing society."
Strange as it may sound, the cooperation department, cooperative courts, etc. have no jurisdiction over the activity of redevelopment, because the object of your housing society is the routine maintenance of the society premises, and not its reconstruction. So, if your society has gone in for redevelopment, you are in a kind of no-man's land where the competent jurisdiction is a grey area.
Reason # 4: "You, the flat owner, are NOT a party to Redevelopment Agreement. Only the society (i.e. office-bearers) will be entertained by court; not individual flat owners like you."
The individual flat owner or a group of owners aggrieved with the redevelopment builder, have little or no locus standi in any legal forum. Unless the society office-bearers decide to go to court against the builder, the individual flat-owners find their hands tied. (This is in direct contradiction with the legal position that redevelopment is not a cooperative activity, mentioned in reason # 3). The common experience is that office-bearers follow a policy of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and speak-no-evil when it it comes to the builder; no amount of efforts by the dissidents can make the office-bearers enforce the builder's legal obligations to the society.
Reason # 5: "Police avoids seeing redevelopment grievances as cheating and fraud (i.e. IPC offences), and prefers to see it as a civil dispute (i.e. breach of contract), or cooperative matter (i.e. failure of office-bearers to perform their duties)."
Redevelopment grievances are a combination of abuse of Cooperative Law, Civil Law (such as Indian Contract Act), Consumer Law and Criminal Law. It is very difficult for flat-owners to get grievance redressal if the police refuses to act on the Criminal Law part, i.e. offences under Indian Penal Code such as fraud, cheating, breach of confidence and forgery. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens in 95 percent of the cases. Complainants are discouraged and disregarded by the police. The police is happy to pretend that stalled redevelopment projects and other kinds of redevelopment frauds are a civil matter, to be taken up before civil courts, consumer courts – anywhere except the criminal justice system. So, getting an FIR registered against the builders' systematic fraud is the most difficult thing in the world. The cop who is supposed to listen to you and take down your complaint – usually a Police Sub-Inspector (PSI) or Assistant Police Inspector (API) – usually wants to browbeat and bamboozle you, threaten you, question your intentions, and sidetrack you with irrelevant questions and indirect accusations. In the end, the police will bluntly refuse to register a criminal complaint. They will simply say that preliminary enquiry reveals that this is a "civil matter" i.e. a dispute between two parties. So, go take your grievances elsewhere.
Reason # 6: "General body members hate to admit that they have selected the wrong builder."
Most people hate to admit that they have been fooled. They prefer to believe that if they keep quiet and have faith in the judgment of the majority, everything will be all right. And so the few flat-owners who question and doubt the builder are stonewalled and boycotted by the silent majority of all their neighbours. The continued silence of the majority suits builders. And their silence suits the police, the government, and the judges, who don't want the responsibility of protecting these homeless people. It suits everybody immensely if these homeless people quietly shrivel up in their tiny leave-and-licence houses, recede into poverty and die unnoticed.
Reason # 7: "The home ministry and police does not give a fuck about solving crimes – especially complicated white-collar crimes."
The home ministry and police don't give a flying fuck about fraud. They don't give a fuck about anything but the most obvious crimes such as pickpocketing... and even those crimes, they are not keen on really solving. The police is basically there for bandobasts, nakabandis, crowd management and VIP security, and not for solving people's problems or protecting the public from crime.
Ministers don't give a fuck. Nor does the cooperation department officials. Nor do judges. Nor does the public. Nobody gives a fuck about the lakhs of redevelopment refugees. A majority of the redevelopment refugees themselves don't give a fuck, because they prefer to live in denial and pretend that one day, everything will become miraculously all right if they keep quiet.
About redevelopment refugees, nobody gives a fuck. They are invisible to the system, like pavement dwellers and street children. The system prefers to pretend that they don't exist. And that's the honest truth.
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