The Bombay High Court recently raised concerns over “wholesale profiteering at the expense and cost of state government” by allotting tenements to unauthorised persons in slum redevelopment projects. The court said that urgent measures are required to empower Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) as a ‘special planning authority’ with far more powers to ensure that free housing through welfare schemes is not provided to ‘encroachers’ for ‘private greed.’
The HC sought assistance of the Advocate General Birendra Saraf on the issue, calling it a ‘typical scenario’ across Mumbai.
The HC was hearing a plea alleging illicit transfers of SRA tenements, illegal allotments, non-payment of transit rent to eligible slum dwellers and unacceptable condition of the already constructed six SRA buildings in the city.
A division bench of Justice Gautam S Patel and Justice Neela K Gokhale was on August 9 hearing a plea against developer Hubtown Ltd and others.
Last month, the bench had directed a special squad from SRA to inspect all six buildings without the presence of people of the developer to ascertain their condition. It had asked SRA officers to visit each of the tenements in all rehab buildings to ascertain if eligible slum dwellers occupied the same.
On August 9, the bench noted partial compliance of some of the completion works, electricity meters, while lighting and painting of the buildings is pending and sewage treatment plant under installation. Moreover, the BMC had told the developer that the connection had already been granted and therefore a fresh water connection is not required. As per SRA report, tanker water supply was temporarily provided.
The report further stated that while the aggregate claim was of Rs 1.06 crore for transit rent to slum dwellers for their temporary accommodation, who have vacated their premises, Rs 55.8 lakh has been paid to them, a claim which the court said needs to be verified.
The SRA said that 760 slum tenements were inspected out of which only 235 were occupied by original allottees, the persons whose names are in the annexures of eligible slum dwellers and for whom a lottery for tenement allotment was held.
The bench found ‘alarming’ that another 59 tenements had occupants who claimed to be legal heirs of the original allottees. However, SRA did not have their record. Moreover, 90 tenements were in occupation of purchasers and 290 tenements, over one/third of total tenements, were in occupation of unauthorised persons. “It is indeed even more curious that 86 rehab tenements were found locked,” the bench noted.
“This is now a clear and unambiguous record of wholesale trafficking, racketeering and profiteering by individuals at public expense and at the cost of the state government and the SRA. Urgent measures are necessary to arm SRA as the Special Planning Authority with far more powers to ensure that there is no illegal trafficking in free of cost ownership-basis slum rehabilitation tenements,” the bench observed.
The court also noted that the other benches had previously expressed that “the promise of free housing to encroachers is fundamentally flawed, but if that is a government policy, the very least we must do is to make sure that it is not abused in this fashion and that this wholesale profiteering at public expense is not done.”
Seeking AG Saraf’s assistance in the matter, the bench went on to add, “We see no reason why the state government, which sets out to achieve a welfare purpose, should have its avowed objectives perverted like this and why private greed should be allowed to prevail over public need. To put it bluntly: the state government is being defrauded. Its SRA is being cheated. We cannot sit by and let this continue.”
The HC will hear the matter next on August 21.