Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Unauthorized Construction: How corrupt BMC officials defend land-grabbers against activists

28 March 2016: An activist friend named Abbaas Naqvi (9892000098) wrote in October 2012 about BMC's modus operandi of defending illegal constructions. Abbaas wrote from his experiences in Malad P-North Ward of BMC/MCGM, where he and other activists (such as Shahnawaz Shaikh 9867768070) were trying to get municipal officials to take action against illegal constructions (especially TV studios) sprouting in the area. Activists are fighting an uphill battle against BMC officials who take undue advantage of their official position. People are losing hope because authorities take no action against errant officials, even when written complaints and evidences are submitted. Civic officials are defeating the town planning by abetting illegal constructions violating Development Control Regulations. No-Development zones are goldmines for officers dealing with unauthorized construction.

Below, I am reproducing Abbaas‘ writings. As I am convinced that this is largely factual, I take full legal responsibility for writing it.

Experience of citizens who complain to BMC’s P-North Ward Building Proposal Dept. and/or Building & Factory Dept:
  • BMC officials fabricate lies, engage in buck-passing and misguide complainants to protect unauthorized construction and offenders.
  • The officials “fade“ the matter by lengthening the procedure of investigation etc. Matters are deliberately “faded“ with long delays, repeated instances of inaction or inadequate action, and ignoring complaints. BMC officials are getting away by bribing other authorities. Our civic body turns a blind eye to ongoing illegal construction activities, while tax-payers are deprived of basic amenities and facilities.
  • There is non-responsiveness and inaction fom BMC e.g. not issuing timely notice based on the complaint.
  • BMC officials take actions that are designed to fail e.g. issuing notice but not taking follow-up action.
  • BMC often adopts time-wasting tactics to allow statute of limitations to lapse due to inaction.
  • BMC uses loopholes i.e. take advantage of rules, laws and procedures to subvert the proper functioning of administrative machinery and lawful intent.
  • BMC officials cause mental & physical harassment i.e. malafidely use their authority and administrative machinery to cause fear, distress, inconvenience, loss of time etc. to the activist / complainant.
  • BMC officials target and victimize the complainants by taking selective action with malafide intent to persecute the complainant. If the complainant is persistent, he may receive implied threats to stop the follow up of complaint / RTI.
  • BMC and police collude to file false cases of extortion against persistent citizens, and brand them as "habitual complainers" or "professional complainers". Unofficial blacklists of such "complainers" are floated among municipal officials, damaging the credibility and social standing of the citizens named in the list. Those named in such lists find it difficult to get a police complaint registered even if they are physically attacked. They are discriminated against even at RTI appeal proceedings, and public information officers find it easy to get away with denying information in response to their RTI applications.

False cases of extortion are filed against persistent activists, and they are sometimes branded as "habitual complainers" or "professional complainers" by Mumbai police and municipal officials of MCGM. In return for these favours, the officials collect huge bribes, and the mafias are allowed to get away with the public loot!
Image: bit.ly/1MC4gvF

Tricks used by officials against activists:
  • BMC officials sometimes reply that site complained against is not traceable by them, and so, they invite the activist for a joint visit. During the site visit, the henchman of the land-grabbers or illegal construction mafia get a chance to surround, threaten and thrash the activist. 
  • Sometimes, BMC officials falsely claim that action has already been taken against the unauthorized / illegal construction. Such “actions” are an eyewash, enabling BMC officials to create fake records of “actions taken” in the Demolition Register. Demolitions are carried out in a half-hearted manner, and quite often, the contractors or builders / occupiers / owners are being forewarned about these “demolition drives”. Within few days of such “demolition drives”, the owner / contractor / builder / occupier rebuild and resume business-as-usual.
  • There are lots of cases where unauthorized work was detected but action not taken.
  • In other cases, action is taken but not pursued vigorously, defeating the intent of the law.
  • In many cases, actions is pursued in a defective way, so that it fails to yeild results. In other cases, the action is withdrawn or dropped unauthorisedly without competent sanction 
  • BMC officials are illegally parceling off open No-Development Zone plots and CRZ plots for unauthorized construction. Every success at land-grabbing further emboldens the land mafia-BMC official cartel.


Krishnaraj Rao
9821588114
Krish.kkphoto@gmail.com

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

MCGM Circular endangers Mumbai citizens fighting land grabbers

23 March 2016, Mumbai: While browsing through my old emails, I found the following letter drafted by some of my fellow activists to the powers-that-be a few years back, when Prithviraj Chavan was Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and Sitaram Kunte was the Municipal Commissioner. Methinks this letter is as relevant today as when it was written, back in December 2013. Activist friends like Abbaas Rizvi, who have been working to thwart the encroachment mafias in Mumbai, tell me that the issues that this letter points out are still as bad as ever.

And so, I am reproducing this letter here for everyone to read, and hopefully to copy-paste onto their own letterhead, sign and send to the Chief Minister and our civic bosses. 
 

To
  • Hon’ble Chief  Minister of Maharashtra,  Mantralaya  
  • Chief Secretary of Maharashtra,  Mantralaya  
  • Principal Secretary-I, Urban Development Dept  
  • Municipal Commissioner, BMC Head Office, Mahapalika Marg.

Sub- (A) Fraudulent MCGM Circular (No. AC/RE/804 dated 04/06/2013 ) endangers the life and physical safety of citizens and is designed to sabotage citizens’ efforts to fight illegal constructions in Greater Mumbai

(B) Circular is contrary to the mandate of the Hon'ble Bombay High Court (In WP No. 2950 of 2012).

(C) Circular is an attempt to sabotage the newly inserted jail and fine provisions in the MCGM Act and the MRTP Act for not acting on the complaints against illegal constructions
                                                         
Dear Sirs,

1)      A Circular bearing No. AC/RE/804 dated 04/06/2013 was issued by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai on the subject of “Procedural Guidelines for conduct of  business of  Zonal level Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) in MCGM”. We attach herewith the said 2013 Circular. The said Circular purports to be in pursuance of Hon'ble Bombay High Court directions in WP No. 2950 of 2012 which directed the BMC to set up proper mechanism for redressal of grievances pertaining to illegal constructions. This fraudulent MCGM Circular endangers the life and physical safety of well meaning citizens/NGOs and effectively sabotages citizens’ efforts to fight illegal constructions. Further, the said Circular is contrary to the mandate of Hon'ble Bombay High Court. This Circular has been instigated by the builder lobby in connivance with the authorities to protect unauthorised constructions, additions and modifications in violation of approved plans and the DCR. The Order of the High Court is deliberately distorted and manipulated to protect the interests of the builder lobby indulging in illegal constructions in connivance with the authorities and kill all complaints pertaining to illegal constructions. The Circular is an attempt to sabotage the newly inserted jail and fine  provisions in the MCGM Act and the MRTP Act for not acting on the complaints against illegal constructions. The MCGM is shooting the said fraudulent Circular from the shoulders of the Hon’ble High Court by distorting its Order. We attach herewith the Order of the Bombay High Court.

2)      In its Judgement dated 10th December, 2012 in the matter of the Writ Petition No. 2950 of 2012 (Lodging No. 2339 of 2012 - Mazhar Hussain V/s Mumbai Municipal Corporation & Ors.) the Hon’ble Bombay High Court after disposing of the grievance of the Petitioner, has expressed its concern that:

QUOTE

We may place on record that similar grievances have been made in large number of matters, in which, the court is required to pass similar orders in at least couple of matters everyday against the Corporation. It would be appropriate that Corporation evolves some internal correctional mechanism (emphasis provided) which would bring quietus to at least some of the complaints one way or the other. If such complaint is received by the official who is authorised to take decision thereon, he is expected to proceed in the matter in accordance with law expeditiously in any case within a reasonable time and not to keep the complaint pending for over two years as has happened in the present case.

We hope and trust that the Commissioner will examine this aspect of the matter and issue directions and provide a proper mechanism for redressal of such grievances at different level across the Corporation.

UNQUOTE

From the above observations of the High Court it is very clear that as per the High Court direction, MCGM was mandated to evolve some internal correctional mechanism for expeditious tackling of complaints from the public and for that matter the Commissioner was required to issue direction and provide proper internal mechanism to be followed at all levels across the Corporation. In other words, the High Court has sought setting up of an internal mechanism within the Corporation so that all complaints from the public in whatever form can be tackled by it in a systematic and expeditious way.


3)      With the Corporation, being the planning and the regulatory authority in the city of Mumbai,  having full internal infrastructure, manpower resources, full information and the records as regards the approved plans, status of approvals of each stage of the construction in respect of all under construction buildings, whether IOD/CC granted, whether occupation certificate granted, the city survey numbers of the plots, etc., is in the eminent position to respond to and tackle each and every complaint regarding unauthorised constructions of all kinds on its own on mere receipt of a simple complaint - not to mention the Corporation’s statutory obligation to suo moto detect and tackle all illegal and unauthorized constructions in the city.

A Circular dated 4/6/2013 was issued by the Municipal Corporation which lays down procedural guidelines for conduct of business of Zonal level Grievances Redressal Committee (GRC) in MCGM.
Image: http://tinyurl.com/Mumbai-Land-Grab-2

4)      However, contrary to and in violation of the aforesaid observations and the mandate of the High Court in the said Writ Petition, in the said Circular the Corporation has passed on the entire burden of proving unauthorised construction on to the complainant himself rather than investigating the same through its own means. A Complaint format/procedure is deliberately created (which was never envisaged by the High Court) to discourage citizens from filing Complaints.

5)      The following amendments to Acts were carried out and Circulars issued-
i)                    The BMC Act/MRTP Act were inter alia amended on 13th March, 2012 to appoint Designated Officers (DO) to tackle illegal constructions, modifications etc. The Amending Act stipulates punishment (jail and fine) for failure to take action. 
ii)                   On 4/4/2013, BMC issued a Circular appointing 65 DOs.
iii)                 A Circular dated 4/6/2013 was issued by the Municipal Corporation which lays down procedural guidelines for conduct of business of Zonal level Grievances Redressal Committee (GRC) in MCGM.

6)      The said Circular seeks to introduce a Complaint format and procedure which is summarized below-
a)      The Complainant is required to file Complaint in prescribed "Form A" to the DO of the ward with documentary proof which includes full information like complete details of the unauthorised work such as nature of work, number of unauthorised floors/rooms with approx area, name of owner of structure, relation with the owner and reasons for filing Complaint, etc. and also evidence on the basis of which said construction is illegal/unauthorized and copy of photo identity proof. If no documents/proofs are submitted, the Complaint is rejected summarily.
b)      Further, the Complainant can file Complaint against the DO in prescribed "Form B" for failure to initiate action.
c)       Subsequently, in the hearing of Zonal level Grievances Redressal Committee, "to follow the principles of natural justice, owners/occupiers against whom the Complaint/notice is made/issued, may be called to attend the hearing".

7)      We recently received an anonymous letter on rampant illegal constructions in areas like Pydhonie, Dongri, Bhendi Bazaar, Nagpada, JJ Marg, Madanpura, etc., where Mumbai's notorious underworld is actively involved in connivance with the authorities. The said letter has referred to about 10 specific cases of illegal constructions. Incidentally, none of the proposed buildings have displayed City Survey numbers at the site to avoid scrutiny under the RTI Act. Should we investigate the above cases and/or file Complaints in these cases of illegal constructions where the notorious underworld is involved and endanger our lives in view of recent June 2013 Circular which is a threat to citizen's life? Recently, it was reported in the media that an activist was killed in Bhiwandi for complaining against illegal construction.

8)      This Circular is a threat to the life of the complainants who file complaints against illegal constructions in public interest without being personally affected. Honest citizens are now forced to meet and face the lawbreakers/builder mafia/underworld in the GRC hearing which exposes them to threats, harassment and murder or even settlement. This Circular effectively puts the onus of conducting an investigation onto the citizens who are not technically qualified nor do they have in depth knowledge of building rules and legal procedures rather than the officials who are on the payroll of the MCGM and who are very often colluding with the lawbreakers.

9)      An ordinary citizen can only report the activity of illegal construction happening in the area. Such ordinary citizens are not expected to file RTI applications (after searching for City Survey numbers), peruse building files and further investigate and file complaints in detail. Public spirited citizens/NGOs file complaints against illegal constructions in some detail after perusing building files under the RTI Act in the interest of the city and subsequently it is the duty of the Building Proposals dept and local Building departments (both of whom are the most corrupt) for initiating appropriate measures against unauthorised building activities including encroachments, change of user, etc which have become a threat to planned development of the city. A citizen cannot or is not permitted to enter the premises or the building/land where the illegal construction is going on and it would be impossible for him to obtain and furnish the detailed information as per the said prescribed Forms.

10)   It is pertinent to note that MCGM has not created any internal correctional mechanism as mandated by the High Court. There is no set up to effectively tackle mushrooming illegal constructions. This is evident from our experience with regard to persistent complaints concerning rampant and gross violations of the DCR in about 50 buildings/projects in JVPD Scheme. There was absolutely no action despite meetings with officials of K West Municipal Ward with evidence in specific cases and the developers carried on their illegal activities without any fear of law. There is only one case of action that too due to High Court intervention after repeated complaints by a citizen. This despite the fact that an internal report of MCGM itself states that "most of JVPD plot owners blatantly misused the floor space index (FSI) allowed for individual plots. The local ward office should be immediately directed to take action against the unauthorized constructions and submit a report within three months". Despite this report, there is not a single case of action against illegal constructions in JVPD either departmentally or on the basis of Complaints (either before or after the said Circular).

11)   In view of the seriousness of the matter, we request your goodself to direct the Municipal Commissioner to do the following-
a)      The said fraudulent MCGM Circular should be urgently revoked/cancelled as it has the potential to discourage whistle-blowers, shield corrupt officers, and encourage builder mafia to indulge in greater illegal constructions with impunity which will destroy the great city of Mumbai.         
b)      MCGM should create internal correctional mechanism as mandated by the High Court to effectively tackle the menace of illegal constructions in Mumbai



Yours truly,



Name:

Address:



                                           



Friday, 4 March 2016

NRI Couple cheated by RNA Builders in Kandivali project

Mumbai, 5th March, 2016: Last week, one of RNA builders' thousands of cheated flat-purchasers sent the builder a legal ultimatum, and started taking steps for going to court after discovering that their promised 17th floor flat in RNA Regal, a project in Kandivali West, is the proverbial pie-in-the-sky! In February 2011, Sandeep Kothari and Apeksha Khabiya, a non-resident couple based in Doha-Qatar, booked a spacious 17th floor flat in RNA Regal, based on the builder's promise that they would get possession within three years. The couple planned to return to India to live in this spacious 1365 sq. ft. dream house. After paying nearly Rs 30 lakhs up front as initial booking amount, the couple was kept in the dark by RNA Corp which fed them a steady diet of outright lies during the three-year waiting period. Every time the couple phoned RNA Corp, they were informed that the project was making satisfactory progress. In the end, the couple's rude awakening consisted of not one, but three shocking jolts!

Shock # 1: When the promised possession date arrived in March 2014, Sandeep and Apeksha were shocked to learn that no further progress had been made in three years, and that the project was practically at a standstill at “25% progress”, the same as the time when they had booked the flat in Feb 2011. Today, two years after making this shocking discovery, they are still no closer to getting their dream house.

Shock # 2: Almost five years after booking the flat and two years after the promised possession date (March-April 2014), the couple was shocked to discover documents through Right To Information that showed that RNA Regal didn't even have BMC permission for going up to 17 floors and above!

Shock # 3: The couple recently sent their authorised representative to visit the site and make a first-hand observation about whether the construction work is in progress. They were traumatised to learn that no construction activities were going on, and the plot where RNA Regal was expected to come up, was partly blocked by slum dwellers. The authorized representative estimated that the encroachment by slumdwellers appeared to be two to four years old.

These are many causes for worry, not only for Mr and Mrs Kothari, but also for all the flat buyers in RNA Regal! RNA Corp's owners, namely the late Anil Aggarwal, as well as his sons Anubhav and Gokul Aggarwal, have evidently been keeping a large number of buyers in the dark for a very long time.

Read the legal notice issued by GC Mehta and Associates on behalf of Mr and Mrs Sandeep Kothari: http://tinyurl.com/RNA-Regal-Kandivali

No construction activities were going on and the plot where RNA Regal was projected to be constructed was partly blocked by slum dwellers. This encroachment appeared to be 2 to 4 years old!
Image http://tinyurl.com/RNA-Regal-Kandivaliwest


How the NRI couple was cheated by RNA Corp:

  • The NRI couple booked a 1365 Sq. Ft. Flat on the 17th floor of RNA Regal, by paying Rs. 29.98 lakhs between February and June 2011 against the builder's demand for Rs. 29.28 lakhs, being 25% of the flat's total cost, along with expression of interest. Against this, the builder issued a letter of allotment.

  • The NRI couple made this booking based on the builder's representations that they would get possession of the flat within three years i.e. in the first quarter of 2014.

  • Afterwards, the NRI couple regularly followed up the progress of construction of RNA Regal and were assured by the builder's office that the project was satisfactory progressing.

  • When the date of possession arrived in March-April 2014, RNA Corp informed the NRI couple that still, only 25% of the construction was complete, and the project was stuck due to some “additional statutory requirements”. The couple was assured that efforts were being made and the necessary clearances would be obtained soon.

  • Upset at being kept in the dark until their promised possession date, the NRI couple now started enquiring about the project status by email on a regular basis.

  • In an email dated 4th April 2014, the builder assured that that construction work would resume by June 2014.

  • In an email dated 14th June 2014, the builder claimed that the approvals are expected within 10-15 days.

  • In an email dated 2nd January 2015, the builder said that the necessary approvals would take another 2-3 months.

  • Later on, the NRI couple's emails dated 31/07/2015, 04/08/2015, 06/08/2015, 07/08/2015 20/08/2015 and 23/08/2015 and letters dated 08/12/2015 and 05/02/2016 were acknowledged by the builder's office only with great reluctance, but they all went unanswered.

  • Whenever the NRI couple or their authorized representatives visited India, they made it a point to visit the builder's office to inquire about the progress on this project and understand the earliest date of their getting possession, so that they could permanently return to India and live in this house. But during their every visit, the NRI couple were told about some or the other kind progress as well as difficulties that the RNA Corp had been facing. RNA Corp continually made promises, but there was no performance to back up these promises.

  • In spite of repeated requests, RNA Corp did not fulfill their obligation for executing a registered Agreement for Sale.

  • The NRI couple got a huge shock when they learned through RTI that RNA Corp had not even obtained approval for constructing a building with 17 or more floors!

  • The Kotharis requested their authorised representative to visit the site and make first hand observation about the actual progress and whether the construction work is in progress. They were traumatised to learn that no construction activities were going on and the plot where RNA Regal was projected to be constructed was partly blocked by slum dwellers. This encroachment appeared to be 2 to 4 years old!

Driven by all these unpleasant discoveries, Sandeep Kothari and his wife Apeksha have now reached the inescapable conclusion that RNA Corp has cheated them by retaining their money for more than five years, and has kept on making false statements as well as promises, which entitles them to invoke all legal remedies against the builders, especially under Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

For more details on this case, contact Advocate GC Mehta (Mob 9820141178 Email advocategcm@gmail.com)

Postscript: Of late, RNA Corp has been in the news for failure to fulfill legal obligations to various stakeholders, including flat-buyers, project-affected-persons, lending banks, and multiple government agencies such as MCGM and MMRDA. After years or even decades of slippery behaviour by the late Anil Aggarwal and his sons Anubhav and Gokul, the patience of many stakeholders appears to have run out completely.

ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY
Krishnaraj Rao
9821588114
krish.kkphoto@gmail.com