Growing incidence of fires in Mumbai high-rises

View Point: The fires at Kamala Mills, Crystal Tower and Samrat Ashok SRA Buildings in Mumbai are textbook cases of misuse of DC Regulation 64 to regularise patently illegal constructions which would not even have withstood token scrutiny otherwise.

The recently elapsed year of 2018 marked a new low point in the life safety of Mumbaikars, with the city witnessing an alarming 710 fire incidents. There have been over 29000 instances of fire across the city since 2010, with over 300 deaths.

It would be pertinent to note that raging infernos spared no one – be it rich or poor, residents of newly-built high-rises or the squalid slums, all fell victim to the scourge of flames which enveloped their structures, turning their cherished homes into death traps.

It would be ironical to note that Beau Monde Towers, Kamala Mills, Crystal Tower – all had been issued Occupancy Certificates (OC) by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

The maximum city’s tryst with OCs has become legendary – over 56000 buildings in the city do not have ‘Occupancy Certificates’. Yet, for the select developers who can game the system, the process is as easy as it gets. It is apparent.  

The menace of Illegal construction is a hydra-headed monster which the people of Mumbai have to confront on an everyday basis.

What the law says

Under DC Regulation 43 of the Development Control Regulations of 1991 (which governed the fire-stricken buildings), the developer is supposed to comply with the exhaustive requirements of Part – IV of the National Building Code of India.

Enter the power to regularise

The erstwhile Development Control Regulations of 1991, now replaced by the rules of 2034, introduced the power to regularise illegal constructions.

The Supreme Court of India, in the case of Friends Colony, had directed – condonation and regularisation of violations should be an exception and not the rule. Deliberate flouting of the law should merit demolition, not regularisation.

The Court further directed that builders constructing megastructures would stand on a stricter and harsher footing vis-a-vis the common citizens constructing their houses. Further, only those deviations from the approved plans would be permissible where the benefit gained by demolition would be far less than the disadvantage suffered.

Similarly the Bombay High Court in the case of Rajendra Thacker vs Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had also prescribed strict guidelines for regularisation of unauthorised constructions.

It ordered that condonation and regularisation would be possible only where there was no threat to the health and life safety of the people. Further, there must be no violation of FSI (Floor Space Index or Floor Area Ratio) Norms or waiver of open space requirements. Further, the local residents were to be given a prior hearing before any order granting regularisation was issued.

Unfortunately, DC Regulation 64 was exactly the silver bullet Mumbai builders were waiting for. The Developers, through their devious Architects and complicit officials, would submit plans for buildings where were absolutely devoid of open spaces or fire safety.

These plans would be approved in a mechanical fashion that smacked of outright corruption. When the stage came for issuance of Occupancy Certificate, the Municipal Corporation would default on its duty to verify the developer’s compliance with other plans.

Aditya Pratap,Advocate, Bombay High Court

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