Rescue and relief works underway after the collapse of the four-storey Kesarbai building at Dongri in Mumbai | PTI
Rescue and relief works underway after the collapse of the four-storey Kesarbai building at Dongri in Mumbai | PTI
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Mumbai: The tragic collapse of a century-old building in Dongri, one of south Mumbai’s most congested areas, Tuesday has claimed 14 lives so far. Rescue operations are still underway, with several persons suspected to be trapped in the rubble even now.

Meanwhile, the city’s civic body and the state housing authority are sparring over whether the precarious building was a ‘cessed’ structure under the latter’s jurisdiction or an illegal construction under the former’s.

The tragedy has firmly put the spotlight on 14,207 such decrepit buildings located in some of Mumbai’s oldest and most congested areas, which have weakened over the years due to neglect, disrepair and illegal alterations.

Frozen in time

These buildings, located in Mumbai’s island city, are tenanted properties older than 1969. A vast majority of them over 80 years old, and their rents are frozen under the Rent Control Act. These are called ‘cessed’ buildings, as residents are required to pay a cess to the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) for their maintenance.

With tenants paying measly rents, the landlords are often not interested in the regular upkeep of these buildings, allowing them to run into disrepair. Despite the shaky condition of the buildings, tenants are wary of moving, afraid of losing their homes which have rent frozen at a pre-1965 or even a pre-1940 level, in a city with skyrocketing real estate prices. Also, despite a slew of incentives to developers, the redevelopment of these structures has been sluggish.

Originally, when the state government passed the Bombay Building Repairs and Reconstruction Act in 1969, there were 19,642 cessed buildings. Over the years, only 5,435, or 27.6 per cent, have been razed or redeveloped.

A MHADA official said that as of now, the authority has given no-objection certificates for the redevelopment of 2,100 buildings.


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Sluggish redevelopment

The Maharashtra government rolled out several incentives for developers to take up the revamp of these buildings in 1999.

As per the policy, developers get a Floor Space Index of 3, or more if required for the rehabilitation of all tenants, plus a minimum incentive of 50 per cent more floor space, which increases with plot size.

The developers, however, need to get the consent of a minimum 70 per cent of the tenants.

“Securing the 70 per cent consent takes a lot of effort, post which developers have to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of securing clearances from the heritage committee, since a number of these structures have heritage value, the civic body, landlords who own these buildings and so on. The entire process sometimes takes so long that tenants lose faith in the developer and interest in the project,” said a state government official who did not wish to be named.

Vinod Ghosalkar, president of MHADA’s repair and reconstruction board that looks after these cessed buildings, said, about 1,200 redevelopment projects where MHADA has given an NOC are stuck today at various levels.

MHADA has the power to acquire such plots and complete the projects, provided it gets state government approval for every case, which takes time. Also, in some cases, landlords have gone to court asking for a higher compensation. In other cases, tenants have gone to court wanting better alternate living arrangements, permanent housing, a good corpus fund for the maintenance of their new homes, and so on.

Pandurang Sakpal, a Shiv Sena functionary from south Mumbai’s Girgaum, home to a number of cessed structures, said whether it is MHADA or the developers, they move tenants who were born and brought up here to far-flung suburbs.

“These people have lived here for 4-5 generations. Their schools, colleges, jobs are here. The track record of redevelopment of stressed structures has been such that tenants are not sure if they will be able to return to their original homes in a time-bound manner,” Sakpal said.

“There are cases where people have been living in transit camps for 30-40 years now. The only solution to this is for MHADA to have good quality transit accommodation in large numbers in south and central Mumbai.”

Inadequate funds for repairs

Ghosalkar said while MHADA is responsible for the repair and upkeep of cessed buildings, the funds it has are grossly inadequate.

“These are really old buildings, and with the resources we have, we scramble to ensure their structural stability. We keep aside Rs 100 crore in the budget for repairs of these buildings, and every year it turns out to be insufficient,” he added.

MHADA repairs these buildings with cess pooled in by the tenants, charged at Rs 3,000 per square metre, and pitches in an equal amount. For anything more, tenants have to open their purse-strings, for which they are often reluctant and sometimes seek help under the local MLA or MLC fund. MHADA has been pushing for an increase to Rs 4,000 per square metre from the current Rs 3,000.

All these issues, debated every time there is a disaster, have now once again come into focus with the collapse of the four-storey building in Dongri. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed, and Rs 50,000 for those injured. He has also called an urgent meeting Wednesday to discuss some of these issues concerning the repair and redevelopment of Mumbai’s rickety old buildings.


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