|(Left) This inundated lane without any drainage facility
is one of many in Madurdaha, a residential
neighbourhood off the Bypass that the CMC says is
still listed as a cluster of water bodies in its records
More than 15,000 homeowners on the booming south-eastern fringe overlooking the Bypass are unable to get the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to mutate their registered properties because the records show they inhabit water bodies.
These homes — blocks of attractive apartments as well as individual houses — are spread across Madurdaha, Paschim Chowbhaga, Nonadanga and parts of Kalikapur, all part of east Calcutta’s rapidly expanding but poorly planned realty hub spanning wards 106 to 109.
Many of the newer apartments to the east of the Bypass are valued at more than Rs 50 lakh each, never mind that sewers don’t exist in the neighbourhood and the narrow approach roads are dirt tracks at best.
All the apartments had been bought on the basis of bona fide CMC-sanctioned construction plans and deeds and documents declaring the plots free of encumbrances. Or so the unsuspecting owners thought, until they went for mutation and unearthed a mountain of a hurdle.
“The assessment department told us that mutation can’t be done without a conversion certificate (from jala to land) for the land from a competent authority,” said B.N. Sen of Madurdaha, one among the hundreds of homeowners whose applications are pending.
So who misplaced this crucial piece in the construction jigsaw?
The story of pass-the-buck, bureaucratic incompetence, unscrupulous builders and unclear rules dates back two decades, long before the proclamation of the East Calcutta Wetlands as a protected zone and the enactment of the state fisheries act that prohibits realtors from filling water bodies.
More than 1,000 bighas of water bodies had been filled around 20 years back and sold as plots, setting the stage for a construction boom that began around five years ago. Everything looked hunky-dory until the first batch of homeowners applied to the CMC for mutation of their registered properties.
“If there is a sanctioned construction proposal for an apartment complex, it is common sense to presume that the land is free of any legal tangle. I have booked a flat at Madurdaha. Now will the developer refund my deposit?” demanded Kajal Kumar Ghosh, a retired professor of physics.
While a valid water body-to-land conversion certificate would solve the problem, nobody knows who is the “competent authority” to do so. Worse, nobody is willing to take responsibility for the mess that the homeowners find themselves in for no fault of theirs.
The land prospectors who filled the water bodies and the developers who raised buildings on those plots have earned their profits and excused themselves. The CMC’s buildings department that sanctioned the constructions won’t shoulder the blame either. Officials say there’s no system in place for the CMC to verify whether a water body had been legally filled years ago.
The state government, which earns revenue by way of stamp duty on every registered property, has taken refuge in rules that complicate rather than provide clarity.
According to the district land and land reforms authority of South 24-Parganas, the entire Madurdaha Mouza had been vested to the fisheries department through a gazette notification around six years ago. This was ostensibly done without verifying whether the water bodies sought to be protected existed at all.
Fisheries minister Chandranath Singha confirmed the notification but said the process wasn’t completed.
“Yes, the land and land reforms department did notify the acquisition of Madurdaha Mouza but the fisheries department didn’t requisition it. Therefore, the department has no authority to give a conversion certificate for any plot in that area,” the minister said.
The CMC’s chief manager for revenue, Bhaskar Ghosh, said it wasn’t the civic body’s brief to give “clearance on the character of a plot of land”.
An executive engineer in the buildings department added to the confusion by claiming that only those construction plans that came appended with conversion certificates were approved, suggesting that forged documents were submitted.
“We sent some conversion certificates to the fisheries and land reforms departments for verification more than a year ago but have yet to get feedback,” said a deputy assessor and collector in the CMC.
B.N. Sen, of Royal Tower in Madurdaha, wishes the CMC hadn’t cleared his builder’s construction plan. “Then I wouldn’t have purchased this flat,” he said.
Not just mutation, the CMC also refuses to take responsibility for the lack of sewage disposal and roads. “Construction of metalled roads is not possible as there is no roadside drainage. Besides, neither the plot owners nor the developers have officially handed those private roads to the CMC,” mayoral council member (roads) Sushanta Ghosh said.
“I feel sorry for the purchasers of the flats. Let me see how much relief the CMC can offer them,” mayor Sovan Chatterjee promised.