MUMBAI: Twenty-five years after its top eight floors were demolished, the stage is set for the razing of the remaining 28 storeys of Pratibha. The building, off Breach Candy, in the early 1980s became the first major instance of corruption in Mumbai's construction industry, much before Worli's Campa Cola illegalities or Colaba's Adarsh scam appeared on the horizon.
The Bombay high court recently ordered the island city collector's office to survey and demarcate the plot in Sophia College Lane on which the building, originally of 36 floors, stands to pave the way for the reconstruction of a new building there.
When Pratibha was completed in 1984, with only finishing work left, it was detected that construction was carried out far in excess of the permitted floor space index by manipulating the plot area, which was shown as 9,232 sq metres when it was actually 7,197.4 sq metres. An inquiry by then BMC chief D M Sukhtankar showed that in all 24,000 sq ft, encompassing eight floors of 3,000 sq ft each, had been constructed illegally. The civic chief, whose designation was 'administrator' at the time, ordered demolition of the illegal area. It was upheld right up to the Supreme Court.
The top eight floors of Pratibha were demolished during 1989-90 at a cost of Rs 5.25 crore, an amount the BMC has recovered from the society. Thereafter, several legal battles ensued. During a round of litigation, the society agreed to one of the five modes the high court suggested (in March 2003) to resolve the issue—to demolish and construct anew and to accommodate all 35 members of Saidale Cooperative Housing Society (as the Pratibha society re-christened itself in the early 1990s).
In the intervening years, the society faced hurdles to get its reconstruction plans sanctioned. In 2012 it pled in the high court to direct the BMC to approve its reconstruction plan, saying the BMC was opposed to demolition of the standing building on the grounds that it may be required as evidence in pending criminal proceedings. The court directed videography and photography of the structure, following which the BMC approved the society's plan.
To issue 'intimation of disapproval' for the demolition and construction of the new building, the revised property card is required with the setback area demarcated. The collector refused to survey and demarcate the plot. A petition was filed by the society pointing out the delay. It said the land survey department was not carrying out the survey for some reason or the other. The society's advocate, S C Naidu, submitted that the department's officers had been convicted by a special court and their appeal was pending in the high court. He said the officers were refusing to carry out their statutory duty on the pretext that they need the high court's permission. "This is stifling reconstruction," he said.
After perusing the earlier high court orders on Pratibha, the judges in the latest case in a February 20 order wrote: "In our view, there is no reason why the request made by the petitioner to carry out survey and demarcate the boundaries should not be allowed." They directed the department to demarcate the land and make entries in the survey register within 30 days of receiving a copy of the order. On receiving the revised property card, permission will be issued to the society, along with the sanctioned plan, to enable demolition.