PUNE: Even before the government takes a call on legalising illegal constructions, word is out in the fringe realty market. "You buy a flat and we assure you that it will get regularised. The state government is going to make all these buildings legal," assured Ramnath, trying to sell flats for the construction firm he works for in Katraj.
Property agents like Ramnath have a simple logic for pinning their hopes on politicians. "There is nothing illegal about our buildings in Mangdewadi and Ambegaon. There are thousands of buildings that have come up without permission. Will the government demolish all these buildings? Is it possible? Will our leaders allow this to happen? So don't worry, all buildings will have legal stamp soon, and then you will get all the property papers and also the entitlement to amenities," Ramnath said.
Developers are only too aware that the buildings they have constructed may have weak foundations, but would survive on the strength of political support. Political pressure is already mounting on new chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to legalise such constructions across Maharashtra. The expectation is that the government would turn a blind eye to the risk these buildings pose to the lives of people who stay in them, and put the legal stamp on them. Developers claim the expectation is not off the mark and will be met.
"The government regularised all illegal buildings in Ulhasnagar and will do so for our buildings too," said A K Patil, a property dealer in Katraj, who promises flats at "best price", with no expenditure on stamp paper and VAT. Patil's is sure the government won't disappoint. "People's voice and votes matter," he said. On the city's fringes, developers routinely cite the Ulhasnagar example to convince potential customers.
In 2006, when the state government had approved a special bill to regularise illegal constructions in Ulhasnagar, the powers that be had assured the move would not set a precedent. Eight years on, the 'Ulhasnagar model' is widely showcased to get illegal constructions legalised in the state.
"Structural stability is a must for regularising. The Ulhasnagar model cannot be followed. What would happen if the buildings cave in even after they are stamped as legal," said a state government official. But such concerns do not figure on the politicians' radar. The 14-member committee constituted to prepare a new law to stop illegal structures has been flooded with suggestions seeking protection of the buildings and the people living in them.
With many petitions by civic organizations and individuals pending in courts seeking action against illegal structures, MLAs have asked the state government to convene a session of the state assembly to pass a new law on illegal structures. The Bombay High Court has already issued eviction notices to 66,324 illegal structures in Pimpri and Chinchwad areas and has asked the municipal corporation to carry out a demolition drive. But local MLAs, MPs and corporators have put their strength behind these illegal structures. The Pune district administration had recently identified more than 8,700 illegal constructions on the city's fringes, but its drive against them stopped even before it took off.
Among the politicians leading the chorus to save these structures are the eight BJP MLAs in the city and an MP, who have "vouched" to stand for "common people". "We need a practical solution to this problem. Where will these people go if their houses are demolished," asked BJP MLA Yogesh Tilekar. "The government should make a special law and legalise these structures. Necessary steps could be taken to ensure stability of these structures once they are legalised," he said. During the election campaign, he had promised to protect illegal constructions on hill tops and hill slopes in his constituency, Hadapsar.
Senior BJP MLA Girish Bapat suggested people be penalised before their buildings get the legal stamp. MLA Vijay Kale blamed the 'babu-developer' nexus for these illegal constructions, but went on to say, "It has become difficult for a common citizen to find an affordable house. So we have to consider that before we take a call on this issue."
The Congress and NCP government had earlier extended the slum regularisation cut-off date from January 1, 1995, to January 1, 2000, making slums on hill tops, hill slopes and on water bodies legal.
"What happened to slums could happen to illegal constructions and this vicious cycle will continue. If the government is going to legalise all illegal structures, it should first check the structural stability of each and every building and legalise only the stable ones," said Vivek Velankar of Sajag Nagri Manch, adding that those responsible should be punished, which would act as a deterrent.
Prithviraj Chavan, who faced immense pressure on this issue in the last leg of his term as CM, had lamented the lack of strong urban governance machinery in the state and had admitted that regularising illegal structures was a "moral hazard" and that the need of the hour was to find a middle path.