Founded on illegality

Builders are flouting norms, with help of politicians. It’s time we raised our voice

shailesh

Shailesh Gandhi | May 6, 2013



During my tenure of three years and nine months at the central information commission (CIC), I must have received thousands of RTI queries relating to illegal construction. Most of these weren’t questioning minor violations either. In 2009, one application had questioned the construction of over 70 buildings. I sent my staff to take pictures of these buildings. Though the municipal corporation of Delhi (MCD) officials admitted that these buildings were coming up, they had no record of any violation. As a commissioner with the CIC, I wrote to the municipal commissioner requesting action but nothing was done. Then, I wrote to the chief minister, who said she could not do anything. When I wrote to the chief justice, he didn’t reply.

Then, the additional commissioner of police, anti-corruption bureau (ACP-ACB), told a reporter that if she filed a complaint he would look into it. She told him she was unwilling to file the complaint and rang me up. I told my staff to call the ACP-ACB  and tell him that I was willing to file a complaint. He visited my office just to tell me that nobody as senior in government as I was ever filed a complaint. It took a month for them to file an FIR following this visit. Two months later, when I inquired about the status of my complaint I found there was very little progress. Later, I was told that since an information commissioner had sought details, it had raised the stakes for corruption. Indirectly, filing a complaint benefited those who were taking bribes.
After the matter was brought to the notice of the MCD officials, their modus operandi was to turn a blind eye and do nothing about it. Many people started filing RTI queries saying the building was unauthorised. Despite full knowledge, conspiring with the builder for their personal gains, the officials delayed replies or said that they had nothing on record of the building activity or its approval.

By the time the RTI was filed, the first appeal heard (despite a fast-track hearing), the building was complete. Later, the officials and the builders would claim that it was an old construction. There is little one can do to refute the claims because for every four witnesses saying that the building was new, there were ten others saying that it had been around since the time they were children! As it is apparent from this, illegal, unauthorised constructions can’t be undertaken without the collusion of politicians, the rich, and criminals.

This is just a symptom of the rot. There are thousands of such buildings everywhere now. There is a clear modus operandi to ensure that illegal buildings come up without any hindrance. Particularly in Delhi, a law passed by parliament says that all illegal structures built before 2006-2007 can’t be demolished. With the rich reaping realty offers, politicians, rich builders and criminals form a nexus. And it is because of this nexus that the rule of law suffers.
It has come to such a pass that we could just as well tell people that anybody can build anything. It is worrisome that we wake up to such blatant violation only when there are a couple of deaths. We have laws that we don’t implement and yet when people take advantage of our non-action we quickly term these violations. Then, there are those who are distressed by the unequal treatment the state metes out when the commoners are pitted against the powerful for the same standards. Those who follow the laws often ask why they should have to adhere to floor space index (FSI) rules while those with money and muscle can get away violating it flagrantly.

Lack of respect for law is damaging society. Do we want to have a situation when the court rulings and laws are adhered to or do we want a state of affairs where everybody is hand-in-glove with the violators? It cannot be both ways. In this case, we must monitor buildings and enforce the law.
Otherwise, some day people will have to rise and say that the violations are unacceptable. At the moment, there is only an outcry if a building collapses and causes deaths. No one is asking why these buildings were allowed to come up in the first place. We have to track the illegal construction right from the start because once such a building is up it acquires all appointments of a legal building. In Mumbai, Mumbra, Thana Kalwa etc have become like Delhi in this aspect. I am told by top builders that there are some legal buildings (that is, which have approval) which flout norms.

We have now created a society where no one wants to follow law. People must be sensitised to follow laws of the country and citizens along with the media must raise their voice to come to a solution. At a time when I was a fairly senior statutory authority figure, despite writing to MC, CM, CJI and the ACB nothing could be done. I had thought something would happen. It didn’t. Only a social churning will bring us answers.

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