Monday, November 11, 2013

Tears, anger to take on BMC hammer at Campa Cola

Feisty flat-owners of Campa Cola Compound slam Cm chavan\'s indifference, resolve to hold their ground.

Tears have started rolling. For the past few years, 140 families residing at Worli's Campa Cola Compound have fought an expensive legal battle to save their homes from BMC hammers.

They have lobbied every conceivable politician and poured their hearts out to everyone who cared to listen to their plight. But with the police warning them in writing not to prevent the BMC from performing its duty, the BEST pasting notices on their doors threatening to disconnect electricity supply, the civic body ordering them to vacate their premises and the water department threatening them with disconnection, the innocent residents are finding themselves pushed to a corner.

Even though they are tax-paying and law-abiding citizens, they are being treated like criminals.

They are victims of the unholy nexus between builders and corrupt BMC officials, who let their illegal floors come up. Today there were dozens of policemen in mufti in their compound, keeping a close watch on them. Some of the residents are on a fast-unto-death in a makeshift tent.

A pall of gloom has descended on the affected families. In the flat of Nandini Mehta, a feisty woman who has been in the forefront of the campaign to save their homes, technicians were busy dismantling split air conditioners and carpenters packing the wooden furniture. "Someone has promised to give me space in a building's basement in Worli to temporarily keep my furniture etc. If tomorrow I am thrown out of my home, I don't know where I will be going with my family," she said.

When politicians Ashish Shelar (BJP), Anil Desai (Shiv Sena) and others went to meet the residents on hunger strike to express their solidarity, the protesters bluntly told them: "You politicians have been coming here for the past several days. But, what have you done for us?

There is no change in our situation." An elderly woman, Kamal Parikh, who is on fast for the past eight days, burst out in anger: "We prefer to die rather than let the BMC demolish our homes. I am a blood-pressure patient, but I have a strong will. There is no way anyone is throwing us out of our homes." Later, Ms Parikh apologised for her strong words, but asked the leaders to understand their emotions.

Rakesh Mehnot, another resident, shouted: "Our numbers might be small. But we are an educated lot. We value our dignity. If our homes are touched, we will mobilise the entire middle class of Mumbai. Like the slum dwellers, we can be a vote bank." Another woman sobbed: "I have a son studying in the tenth standard and another child is only four years old. Where do I go with them tomorrow? Does anyone care?"

Local MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha (BJP), Amin Patel (Congress) and Sachin Ahir (NCP) assured the residents of their full support. Shaina N.C. (BJP) said she was trying to arrange for a meeting between the residents and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in a last-ditch attempt to save the situation. All the leaders supporting the residents will prevent the police from forcibly taking away the flat-owners, she added.

The apex court order does not state that the demolition has to be carried out on Tuesday, but the time limit to vacate the premises has expired for most of the residents, except for one of the buildings.

Meanwhile, governor K Sankaranarayanan held a meeting with Chavan and handed over a memorandum submitted to him by the residents.

The residents are extremely bitter about the "total indifference" of Chavan to their plight. They have given him the best of legal opinions stating that an ordinance can indeed be promulgated to undo the demolition verdict of the apex court. A proposal was also made to Chavan to acquire a 4,000sqmt plot, which is part of the Campa Cola Compound, on which the defunct soft-drink factory is located. "The FSI of this plot can be used to regularise the unauthorised flats. We are willing to pay for the FSI. But the CM has to take a call on that," Nandini Mehta said.

As if to rub salt into their raw wounds, the BMC has asked the residents to cough up Rs2.5 crore to demolish their own flats!
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