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102 flat-owners defy SC

Mumbai, June 12: The residents of Campa Cola Compound’s 102 illegal flats facing demolition defied a Supreme Court order asking them to vacate and refused to hand over keys within a deadline that ended this evening.

Two of the flats in the compound in Worli, a western Mumbai suburb, are in the name of Lata Mangeshkar.

As the clock ticked past the 5pm time set by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for the handover of keys, the residents wrote to commissioner Sitaram Kunte with a charter of 14 demands.

Rajesh Kumar Varma, who owns one of the apartments, said: “I am ready to give my keys but before that, I need a sworn affidavit from the chief minister (Prithviraj Chavan) and the MC (municipal commissioner) saying all illegal constructions in Mumbai would be demolished and nothing would be regularised by nefarious means.”

The residents also spoke against ordinances that they claimed previous administrations had used to regularise illegal buildings.

Varma continued: “No law or ordinance will be passed by the present or future government to regularise any illegal construction and if this is violated, the incumbent minister or official would be tried in a fast-track court.”

The allusion was to a 2006 decision by the then Vilasrao Deshmukh government to regularise 855 illegal houses in Thane’s Ulhasnagar through an ordinance.

In the Campa Cola case, the Chavan-led Congress-NCP government has ruled out doing so, though the chief minister told the Assembly today a 14-member panel headed by BMC commissioner Kunte had been set up to prepare a new law to stop illegal structures.

Some of the seven apartment blocks in the Campa Cola complex have up to 20 floors instead of the permitted five.

The residents demanded immediate attachment of properties of the three builders who built the illegal floors and the BMC officials who connived with them, so that the flat-owners could be compensated.

Another resident said their legal options had not been exhausted yet. The Supreme Court had last week rejected their review petition, filed on “humanitarian” grounds, against an earlier verdict. A curative petition is also pending.

“Our curative petition will be heard in July and we need time till the petition is decided. But the civic administration, not as prompt against other illegal constructions, is adamant on our eviction. There is no question of handing over our keys unless our charter of demands is agreed to. We will stay here, we will die here,” said the resident.

The Shiv Sena-run BMC seems to be treading with caution and avoiding a confrontation, unlike in November 2013 when it had sent bulldozers.

Civic sources suggested a calibrated approach, saying they would first inform the Supreme Court its orders had been defied, followed by a fresh notice under Section 488 of the BMC Act on June 17. The provision allows civic officials to enter people’s premises for eviction if its orders are defied.

Former Mumbai police chief Julio Ribeiro today joined prominent citizens who have backed the residents. “I have written to the BMC chief asking what action the corporation has taken against the officials who connived with the builders. It is unjust that only the residents of the illegal flats are facing action,” Ribeiro said.

Earlier this week, Lata Mangeshkar had sought support for the residents, without mentioning that she owns two of the flats.

In the Assembly today, Speaker Dilip Walse Patil asked the chief minister to consider interim relief to people living in illegal structures. He also suggested a special session for passing the law planned against such constructions.