The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bribe, build and thrive
- Blaze site a maze of illegal structures

The call was ‘heads’ for a club that young boys in the area desperately wanted and ‘tails’ for yet another illegal building. The precious plot went to the promoters of a three-storey structure. The coin, for such deals in Topsia, invariably has tails on both sides.

Mehraj had inherited the three-cottah plot on GJ Khan Road in Topsia from his father and within six months of its handover, a three-floor building was up and running. And all this without Mehraj having to run around seeking mandatory clearances or submitting building plans.

Besides pledging his land, Mehraj also provided the cash for the project while the penniless promoters managed the rest, from lubricating the political-civic-police machinery to finding a tenant.

“I did not take any permission or clearance…. I know this building is illegal, but that’s the rule here and this building is no exception,” confessed the middle-aged man, standing outside the plastered building awaiting its first stroke of paint.

A leading leather goods exporter now uses the three floors as a manufacturing facility (read, sweatshop) and pays him 80 paise per sq ft as rent. “If I raise the rates I will price myself out… Cheap rates are the biggest attraction for companies dealing in leather, plastic and rubber products. You will find their manufacturing units in almost every building here,” defends Mehraj.

One such unit at 33C Topsia Road — barely a minute’s run from Mehraj’s building — caught fire early on November 22 and killed 11 workers locked into a sweatshop of an illegal building for the night.

But the blaze has not slowed down the illegal construction boom in Topsia. Metro spotted around 20 labourers working round-the-clock on a two-cottah plot behind Gabtala Jama Masjid, barely 40 m from the site of the tragedy. “We have to complete the building by December-end,” said a labourer.

Four families have already moved into the pigeon-hole flats on the first floor. A leather merchant has already booked the third floor to set up a manufacturing facility.

Legitimate water connections and electricity lines are yet to arrive, but a band of local boys running a parallel electricity distribution enterprise powered by hooking has ensured that the lights are on.

“We will finish the second floor in a few days and hand over the flats. Construction in phases is the norm here,” says promoter Moin Ahmed, who has raised over 15 such buildings in the past four years and has never bothered about permissions and clearances.

“In the past 10 years, over 2,000 illegal buildings have been constructed in the area,” mentions a CMC source.

According to a local promoter, Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000 is paid to police to legalise each illegal floor, while political leaders and civic officials get their regular share.

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