Millennium Post

We need a regulator

As the Campa Cola compound in Mumbai’s upscale Worli area simmered for the last couple of days, with the Supreme Court on Wednesday putting a stay on razing of the illegally raised floors and finally putting a temporary lid on the scalding issue, what came to the fore were brazen apathy of the administration and lack of faith in rules among both the builders and the authorities of the time.

And in came the need for a regulator for the real estate sector, felt with more crying need with each passing case of fraud by developers across the country.

While the apex court has stayed demolition of the unauthorised floors till 31 May 2014 and close to 100 families, who stand to be evicted, can breathe easy for now, the struggle is far from over.

Campa Cola compound had been simmering since 2005, when the residents first moved the court for water connection and regularisation of their apartments. The court had ordered the then municipal commissioner to take a time-bound action on the case. But instead of taking action against the builders, the municipal commissioner served demolition notices to about 100 flats above the fifth floor. Let us, however, not look at the Campa Cola issue in isolation. It has a wider reverberation across the country. Like the residents who face eviction from the Worli apartment complex, residents or flat owners are made to suffer for irregularities of builders – and inefficiency, dishonesty, or both, on part of the municipal authorities – in countless cases throughout urban India.

In this case, the builders were served notices for illegal constructions, paid a fine and resumed work. But 30 years later, residents of the building are being told that the floors occupied by them are illegal. The builders, who should have been heavily penalised, are nowhere in the picture amid all the hue and cry. Instead, the residents have to bear the brunt of a shoddy job by the authorities, who messed up the situation and were at the doorsteps of the building on Tuesday to cut off water and power connections in a bid to force the families out.

Given the inefficiency of municipal authorities in curbing such illegal practices, a real estate regulator is the need of the hour. A regulator, if it had existed, would have stepped in before the situation got out of hand, analysed it and decided the course of action. In that case, the word of the regulator – which, if and once it comes into shape, will be an apex body for all building and construction-related matter – would be final. Had a regulator been in place in this case, the builders of the Worli apartment could not possibly have gone through with the construction in the first place. It would have saved a lot of trouble and trauma. A very important clause of the real estate regulatory bill, which is pending for want of people (read MPs) to take it up with passion for reasons best known to them, is that details of a project, along with permission obtained from relevant authorities, has to be made available on the website of the project under development. Instead of contesting whether or not the residents were aware of the violations, why not put it up for everyone to see, and thus end all confusion?

A large part of India is today unaware of the legalities involving real estate projects and permissions therein. One authority might okay a certain illegality whereas another might challenge it. A real estate regulator would bring in uniformity in such aspects. The residents who have been diligently paying property tax till date do not deserve such punishment meted out to them when the builders and the authorities get to wash their hands off the situation with such ease.

Governance Now
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