|Campa Cola residents shut out BMC officials in Mumbai on Friday. (PTI)
Mumbai, June 20: Residents of Campa Cola Compound’s 102 illegal flats facing demolition shut out civic officials today for the second time in over a week, thwarting their bid to cut off water and power in the first step towards eviction.
The protesters, among them several women, had locked the main gates of the society in western Mumbai suburb Worli and over 500 of them formed human barricades to block Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials while a handful of them performed a havan inside.
The scenes revived memories of the stand-off in November last year when the dwellers had clashed with police and civic squads.
But the relatives of Lata Mangeshkar, who owns two of the flats and had a few weeks ago publicly sought support for the residents, were not among the protesters today. Residents said the singer had never participated in their nearly year-long agitation till her recent appeal. The singer’s nephew lives in one of the flats, but is often said to be travelling out of the city. The other apartment is usually locked.
Legal efforts by the residents to prevent the demolition have hit a wall. The Supreme Court earlier this month rejected their plea for a stay till a curative petition filed by them is heard. That is likely only next month.
Last week, the residents had refused to hand over their keys, following which the civic authorities served them notices under Section 488 of the BMC Act, which allows use of force for eviction.
Today, the BMC teams had gone to turn off electricity, piped cooking gas and water connections from the basement of the buildings. The 102 flats are located on 35 illegal floors in the complex’s seven apartment blocks, some of which have up to 20 floors instead of the permitted five.
As the stand-off raged, the officials left at 1pm to consult their superiors. They returned around 4pm and failed again to persuade the residents to let them in.
But unlike last November, the BMC did not deploy bulldozers, choosing instead to repeatedly speak to the residents over the gates and making the point that they were only enforcing a decision cleared by the Supreme Court.
“We will not use any kind of force. Our effort was to speak to residents and explain the situation to them, but they have not co-operated. We will now discuss with our superiors the next course of action and return tomorrow morning,” a senior BMC official said as the teams left this evening.
Other officials said they had filmed the day’s events and would use the footage in a possible contempt petition in the apex court.
Mumbai BJP leader Shaina NC visited the complex and backed the residents. “Six residents have died over the past year from stress. Even after the Supreme Court order, the chief minister could have chosen to use his powers to help the residents on compassionate grounds,” she said.
But chief minister Prithviraj Chavan refused to intervene. “Some residents were aware that their flats were illegal, yet they decided to live there. The matter has been addressed by the highest courts, including Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. The apex court has given a specific directive that the state authorities should not intervene in this,” Chavan said in Pune when asked about today’s protests.