Media commentators and citizens flayed the system and the politician-builder nexus for the recent plight of 100 families ordered to vacate their apartments in the Campa Cola complex in Mumbai after residing there for two decades. Their threatened eviction followed an earlier Supreme Court (SC) judgment, ordering demolition of illegally constructed apartments. Originally the residents were to vacate on 3 October, but later due to the Court&’s intervention, reprieve was given till 11 November.
On the due eviction date, the residents staged a vigorous protest highlighted by the media, which blamed the politicians and the builders of the apartments. Should not the SC share some of the blame? True, taking a humane view, the court allowed a further extension of six months for the residents. But what about the original judgment? Judges are expected to deliver justice. Did the judges of the SC deliver equitable justice in this case?
The facts of the case are clear enough. The builders were allowed to construct the residential towers not higher than five floors. They flouted the norms. After an appeal by residents, the Supreme Court refused to regularise the illegal flats. These flats were sold at cheaper than market price. Possibly some buyers were unaware of the illegality, but even those who were aware must have thought quite reasonably that if the authorities allowed the flats to be constructed in broad daylight, these would be regularised after payment of penalty. That was not done. The residents had a long legal struggle since 2005 after they were denied water connection and regularisation. The court ordered the authorities to take time-bound action in the case. The municipal commissioner, instead of taking action against the builders, served demolition notices to 100 flats above the fifth floor. The municipal authorities claim they asked the police to stop construction when the flats were being built but the police never acted.
The SC cannot be faulted for upholding the eviction notices and displaying zero tolerance for violation of law. But should not the judges have taken a holistic view of the dispute and taken cognizance of the failure of the authorities to prevent the illegal construction? Could the flats have been constructed without bribes greasing some palms?
How ironic then that the residents who paid for the flats and have resided in these for two whole decades are being punished, while those in authority who allowed illegal construction under their noses for dubious reasons remain unpunished? It is not only plight of the residents that causes concern and provokes this comment. It is the plight of Indian democracy and its system of justice which has lost all credibility with the public that causes serious concern.
The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) submitted to the SC figures of unauthorised buildings in Mumbai. Overall, the BMC detected more than 56,000 illegal buildings in the past five years. According to BMC, even this figure is incomplete. To uphold the principle of consistent application of law and equal justice for all citizens, should not the SC order demolition of all the 56,000 buildings?
Recently, the judges have been proactive and often encroached on the Executive&’s domain to invite charges of judicial overreach. In this case, they appear to a layman to be strangely oblivious of the administration&’s criminal dereliction of duty at the cost of ordinary citizens. Forgive me My Lords, but for a layman ignorant of legal intricacies, you have badly let down the cause of justice.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com