SINDHIS IN ULHASNAGAR – REFUGEES IN 1947, HOMELESS IN 2005
By Mahesh Vaswani
Ulhasnagar needs 190 crores to demolish 90% of itsstructures and render 8 lac homeless!
HC Orders Demolition of 855 Unauthorised Buildings
Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation needs Rs. 190 crores, which it does not have, to render 8 lac innocent human beings, majority of them Sindhis, homeless, and to destroy 3000 crores worth of homes, shops and other property and wipe out 90% of its township. This all to be done under the RULE OF LAW. The bureaucracy appears to be wanting to go by the internationally laid down principle “all are equal before the law”. This, if implemented in the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India, will prove to be a mind boggling puzzle, challenging, not only the locally elected representatives, but also social workers, the Non-Governmental Organisations and human rights’ activists. The panic-stricken citizens of Ulhasnagar have also consulted legal giants like Ram Jethmalani, but time will tell if these 8 lac innocents can be saved from being rendered homeless!
27th April 2005 will go down in the history of Ulhasnagar, when a Division bench of the Bombay High Court comprising of the Chief Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice S. A. Bobde passed an order directing the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation to demolish 855 unauthorised buildings. The Municipal Commissioner of this Sindhi township has also been directed to file an affidavit pertaining to the rest of the unauthorised constructions within its limits. Admittedly, according to former mayors, corporators, the local MLA and even the present mayor – 90 percent of the buildings and other constructions are unauthorised and not in accordance with the law.
NO MARRIAGE PROPOSALS WITH THOSE LIVING IN THE BUILDINGS FACING DEMOLITION ORDER!
The SINDHISHAAN team visited Ulhasnagar and were struck by the stinking double standards, of not only the state government but also of the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation. The demolition order of 27th April last was passed following a Public Interest Litigation filed by a local journalist, one Hari Hotumal Tanwani. The state government though made a party failed to file a single affidavit that would bring relief to the Sindhis and other residents of Ulhasnagar who now face the prospect of losing their homes. Interestingly, the occupants or residents of the buildings facing demolition orders today were not given a chance to defend themselves in the court since they were not made a party in the Public Interest Litigation by Mr. Tanwani.
During World War II the United States of America faced a dilemma in arriving at the decision of the country against which to deploy its nuclear option. There were three powerful nations opposing the superpower – Germany, Italy and Japan. Ultimately the atomic bomb were released on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. World wide it was believed that, inspite of being closer to the US and posing a bigger threat, compared to Japan, the other two countries were spared because they were European nations! An old Sindhi who had seen the bloodshed of the 1947 partition asked SINDHISHAAN, “why did the state government remain silent in the Public Interest Litigation? Why were we selected like the Japanese, who were targeted in the Second World War.”
The gaping eyes of the widows, children, smalltime businessmen and shell shocked housewives reflect a look of disbelief and terror at the thought of their homes being demolished without even giving them a chance to be heard. And that too by the Bombay High Court! Many of them are filing intervening petitions, while the rest are trying to get together to knock at the doors of the thickskinned bureaucracy of the Maharashtra Government through the local MLA and the Mayor. No one is willing to buy a flat or a shop in any of these buildings. The news has spread like wild fire. The fear of demolitions is more than the fear of leptospirosis, gastroenteritis or jaundice, that have taken an epidemic form as a consequence of the unprecedented flooding on account of heavy rains on the 26th and 27th July. Marriage proposals to the families living in these buildings have now been banned by an unwritten law. Sindhis, who came to India as refugees in 1947 due to the bloody partition, will once again become refugees. This time however, the tragedy is that many of them will become refugees on the streets in independent India, their own motherland!
SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENTS RELIED UPON :
While dealing with the case, the learned judges of the Bombay High Court relied upon several judgements settled by the Supreme Court of India. Some important segments of the law settled by the Supreme Court of India which were glowingly cited by the Bombay High Court while passing the order on 27th April 2005 are highlighted below:
• “Unauthorised construction if it is illegal and cannot be compounded, has to be demolished.
• “While directing the demolition of unauthorised construction, the court should also direct an enquiry as to how the unauthorised construction came about and to bring offenders to book.”
• “A feeling is gathering ground that where unauthorised constructions are demolished on the force of the order of courts, illegality is not taken care of fully in as much as the officers of the statutory body who had allowed the unauthorised construction to be made or make illegal allotments go scot free. This should not, however have happened for two reasons. First, it is the illegal action/order of the officer which lies at the root of the unlawful act of the citizen concerned, because of which the officer is more to be blamed than the recipient of the illegal benefit. It is thus imperative, according to us, that while undoing the mischief which would require the demolition of the unauthorised construction, the delinquent officer has also to be punished in accordance with the law. This, however, seldom happens. Secondly to take care of the injustice completely, the officer who had misused his power has also to be properly punished. Otherwise, what happens is that the officer, who made hay when the sun shined, retains the hay, which tempts the others to do the same. This really gives fillip to the commission of tainted acts, whereas the aim should be opposite.”
• “Be that as it may, the state Governments should think of levying heavy penalties on such builders and therefrom develop a welfare fund which can be utilised for compensating and rehabilitating such innocent or unwary buyers who are displaced on account of demolition of illegal constructions.”
BUT, OFFICIALS & BUILDERS ARE YET TO FEEL THE HEAT :
Despite relying on the several Judgements of the Supreme Court of India, in which the above observations have been saliently made, on the 25th of April 2005, the learned Judges of the Bombay High Court while directing the demolitions, have remained silent on the aspect of any action to be taken against the officials who allowed the builders to construct these unauthorised buildings. The learned Judges have also not issued any directions as to the action that may be initiated against the culprit builders who built these structures and sold them as legitimate ones to thousands of innocent buyers. The learned Judges have directed the Police Commissioner of Thane to give all possible assistance to the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation in carrying out the demolition of the unauthorised structures. The Bombay High court has also directed the Thane Police chief to give protection to the petitioner Hari Tanwani if it becomes imperative. The same court has yet to direct the state government to even file any affidavit, leave aside passing any orders for setting up a welfare fund for the innocent and unwary people who will get displaced due to demolitions.
WHO WILL DEMOLISH THE ULHASNAGAR MUNICIPAL CORPORATION BUILDING WHICH IS ALSO UNAUTHORISED !
In Ulhasnagar, SINDHISHAAN learnt one bitter truth. The very building that houses the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation is itself illegal! The Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation does not have any title for the land on which the Corporation building stands! And Mr.RAMNATH KACHESHWAR SONAWANE, the Municipal Commissioner has not even given a whiff of this blatant violation of law in the affidavits filed before the Bombay High Court in the Public Interest Litigation seeking demolitions of unauthorised constructions!
As we have seen earlier that the Supreme court has settled the law by observing that: “First, it is the illegal action/order of the officer which lies at the root of the unlawful act of the citizen concerned, because of which the officer is more to be blamed than the recipient of the illegal benefit. It is thus imperative, according to us, that while undoing the mischief which would require the demolition of the unauthorised construction, the delinquent officer has also to be punished in accordance with the law.” It would be interesting to know the court’s reaction when this is brought to its notice. But just like the saying goes, “who will bell the cat…”, no one in Ulhasnagar has the courage to draw the attention of the Bombay High Court towards this unauthorised structure!
SHRI HARI MOTWANI “NIMANO”, EDITOR OF “MAHRAAN” SINDHI WEEKLY, ULHASNAGAR.
HE IS ALSO THE PETITIONER IN THIS PIL :
“I do not want to comment any thing, as the matter is still subjudice.”
PAPPU KALANI - MLA, ULHASNAGAR : “Expand Ulhasnagar’s boundaries, regularise unauthorised structures on the Gujarat pattern”.
When contacted, MLA Pappu Kalani, the most powerful politician of Ulhasnagar said that Ulhasnagar has been a victim of dirty politics in the past. Recounting the township’s history, he said that the Sindhis, when they first migrated from Pakistan during the bloody partition of 1947, were refugees in this town. Ulhasnagar was then an out-of-use military camp. Gradually, the settlers were given land and allowed to build houses on these plots of land. From an original population of 45 thousand, the township kept growing. While families grew and the population multiplied almost 20 times over, the boundaries of the township remained static. Several attempts to expand the boundaries by including neighbourhood villages were ignored by successive state governments that ruled Maharashtra.
Ulhasnagar has seen a sustained development graph since Pappu Kalani first took reigns as its Municipal President on 10th July 1986. Ulhasnagar was the first in the state to introduce cement block roads in 1987. The Mumbaikars followed suit after Mayors, Municipal Commissioners and bureaucrats visited Ulhasnagar to have a look at the cement block roads. When the screening committees appointed by the central government gave the Sindhi refugees lands, there was no electricity, no sanitation networks, no water connections, no hospitals and schools for them. The Sindhi refugees in Ulhasnagar were just human beings in existence.
After Kalani took over the reigns of the Ulhasnagar Municipal Council in 1986, the revenue collection shot up from 5.5 crores to 12.5 crores in barely 1 year. Reeling off statics, he says that within 3 years, by his acumen the budget shot up to 20.5 crores. All this without levying any new taxes! Asked how? And he is prompt to say that he broke the nexus of corruption and thefts, which flourished between the bureaucrats, the mafias and the politicians. It is because of this that he generated animosity among vested interests, which eventually landed him on the unpleasant side of the law.
The city needed urgent expansion. Kalani demanded it from the Governments. To cope up with the growing population of the city, it was proposed that 4 villages came be merged with Ulhasnagar. The geographical area increased by 15 square kilometres. However, in 1993, destiny frowned on the uncrowned prince of Ulhasnagar. He was arrested, for which he blames his political detractors and the then Chief Minister Sudhakar Naik. The same Chief Minister detached these four villages from the authority of the Ulhasnagar Municipal limits and the whole planning though started late, went haywire.
The illegal constructions when intended to be dealt with, were so huge, that it had become practically impossible for the Corporation to initiate action on such a massive scale. Lacs would have been rendered homeless besides causing a law and order problem. When there was no space to go horizontally, people started planning vertical expansions. Building structures grew taller. Civic permissions were just ignored, since the lands mostly belonged to state or central governments and so the permissions were out of the civic authorities’ ambit.
To salvage the people from the almost certain demolitions following the Bombay High Court orders of 27th July 2005, Kalani has a suggestion. All these structures could be regularised by the Government. If a formula was worked out, the revenue so generated would cross a whopping 1000 crores. And this would have the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation brimming with funds. The builders involved should be blacklisted, law enacted to recover heavy fines from them. These fines should become the welfare fund, which should be used for compensating the unwary buyers of flats and houses in unauthorised structures who might lose their homes as a result of demolitions, as has also been observed by the apex Court in the past.
He has also sought to assimilate 7 villages to the Municipal limits of Ulhasnagar so there could be horizontal expansion. If people will get space, they will move out and a major part of the problem could be solved. Today the township’s density – population per square km is thrice that of the State.
When specifically asked what he planned to do in the face of the demolition order of the Bombay High Court, he says it is a serious matter and the Corporation has to act accordingly. On 28th April 2001, the Gujarat Government has by an Ordinance of the Governor allowed the regularization of all such unauthorised structures that do not conflict with the development plans and are not on those lands reserved for public utilities. Kalani suggests the Government could bring about a similar relief through an EXTRAORDINARY Ordinance for the innocent people of Ulhasnagar.
HARDAS MAKHIJA, FORMER MAYOR OF ULHASNAGAR AND ULHASNAGAR CONGRESS PRESIDENT:
“The Maharashtra Government is regulating slums in Bombay till 2000, then why not we Sindhis be also treated on par with the slums of 2000 in Bombay?”
Likewise, HARDAS MAKHIJA, is also a name to reckon with in this township of hardworking people. The former Mayor of Ulhasnagar, is immensely popular with not only the people, but also with his political brethren from the other parties. Makhija, is equally at home with Pappu Kalani of the RPI and so also with the BJP stalwart and former MLA Sitaldas Harchandani. In fact he is modest enough to admit that the BJP leader has been his political mentor and guru.
This former Mayor of Ulhasnagar also lives in an unauthorised building! There are almost no legal buildings in this town. He is not worried about his house facing the bulldozers of demolition. This man is busy identifying innocent victims, social workers, NGOs and other activists who would approach the Bombay High Court by filing intervening petitions in the Public Interest Litigation. He feels the 2 lac people whose homes are to be demolished by the bulldozers and JCB machines of the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation have a right to be heard by the Bombay High Court before a final conclusion is reached.
Makhija had purchased flat number 502 in the Heera Panna building 20 years ago. Till date there has been no Municipal notice stating that there is any irregularity in the building structure. But now suddenly we have this order from the Bombay High Court. Besides meeting several officials of the Maharashtra Government, Makhija has also met the Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh for convincing the Government to regularise the unauthorised structures to whatever extent possible. A 100 strong delegation including MLA, the Mayor, political leaders, doctors, lawyers, social workers and others have met the legal giant Ram Jethmalani for his expertise and advice in this matter. When asked to elaborate of the outcome of the meeting with Jethmalani, he smiles and says “Wait and see, we will play our cards at the right time.”
“If the High Court Order is implemented against all unauthorised structures of Ulhasnagar in letter and spirit, 90% of Ulhasnagar will be wiped out. The Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation has failed to challenge the legality of the building in which I reside. For a full 18 years, the Corporation has levied and received house tax from me and all the occupants of the 855 buildings now ordered to be demolished. I want the Municipal Commissioner to submit these details also in the affidavit before the High Court”, he firmly says.
“There are many buildings with even 200 flats each and these buildings did not come up overnight. Such buildings take atleast 2 years to complete. Were the authorities sleeping then? Why did they look away?” asks the former first citizen of Ulhasnagar. “Justice demands that responsibility must be fixed and guilty punished. Who built these 855 buildings, the Corporation must identify them and give the information on oath before the Bombay High Court. But all this will be useless”, he adds quickly. “The builders of these buildings are usually benami or firms registered in the names of servants, agents and dummies. Those who rarely come on record invest the money and also the same faceless investors rake in the profits.”
“The unauthorised constructions were also having buyers out of compulsions, not out of fancy. The Maharashtra Government is regulating slums in Bombay till 2000, then why not we Sindhis be also treated on par with the slums of 2000 in Bombay?” he asks, making a strong case for the government to answer. He further adds, “the right to housing is a fundamental right of every Indian as enshrined in the Constitution of India, and hopefully after considering all these aspects, the Bombay High Court will modify the demolition order. My immediate neighbour Mr. Nanikram Kachwani in the Heera Panna building has already moved the Bombay High Court seeking to be allowed to join as an intervenor, since he is an affected party.”
NANIKRAM KACHWANI, FORMER REFUGEE FROM PAKISTAN HAS HIS FLAT ON DEMOLITION LIST :
“My priorities today are to save our houses from the demolitions. The agreement is registered and stamp duty paid, then how is my house illegal?”
The 74-year-old Kachwani has seen the partition and still feels his blood boil when he discusses the trauma and difficulties faced post partition. And after so many years in independent India, he has set up a small biscuit manufacturing business in Ulhasnagar. Today he is also a grand father! But in the evening of his life he is more worried about his house being demolished. His son and grandchildren too reside in the same building. He introduces his wife and asks her to bring the original Agreement of purchase of his home of 20 years, flat number 505 on the 5th floor at Heera Panna building. Having purchased the flat, Kachwani has also got his purchase agreement registered and paid the stamp duty for the flat. He shows his Agreement with the builders Kamlesh Associates and points out the government seal and stamping on it.
SITAL HARCHANDANI - FORMER MLA, ULHASNAGAR:
“If demolitions take place, where will the people go?”
“Since the year 1948, when Sindhis first came to this place as refugees, their families have expanded. When I first came from Pakistan, every family comprised of 4 members. Today, 50 years on, those families have extended to 20 member families. If demolitions take place, where will the people go? Will they be forced to die on the streets without a shelter, like animals? Does the Maharashtra Government have no sense of responsibility or humanitarianism left in the corridors of power for the Sindhis? And there has been a steady influx from all over India causing a population boom.
The geographical boundaries are same, so the people start expanding vertically. Some structures have even consumed FSI to the extent of 9 or sometimes even 10, while the permissible ratio is 1.”
The simple former MLA had been instrumental in getting 18000 unauthorised structures allotted and regularised when he was on the screening committee to settle the claims of Sindhis who had come as refugees. In 1973, the state government transferred the present Ulhasnagar land to the state government. Those who had occupied lands and or constructed structures prior to 11.5.1965, were regularised on payment of a fixed price. Later a fixed rent formula was suggested for all those who occupied these structures till 1980.
“I want all the structures regularised and hereafter a final deadline should be set as a cut off date. All those unauthorised structures may be regularised by the state Government provided they do not affect the Development Plan. Following the demolition order, property markets have crashed. Ambernath, Thane and Kalyan are safer havens. The Sindhis have been reduced to being political orphans.”
“There was a big hue and cry in the media for rehabilitation of bar girls, but why no one is bothered about the rehabilitation of the innocent people who will become homeless due to demolitions”, he asks. “Government should consider increasing the FSI and levying penalties to regularise the existing structures. Then only can I visualise a solution.”
JYOTI KALANI, MAYOR OF ULHASNAGAR :
She is the confident first lady of Ulhasnagar. When confronted with the fact of the unauthorised nature of the Municipal Corporation building itself, she says “I will have to find out”. When asked about the High Court order in respect of demolition of 855 buildings, she confidently exudes the perceived outcome. “We are looking into the matter from the legal point of view to challenge the petition.”
nd on that note Sindhishaan concluded its fact finding mission. The gravity of the situation was stark and scary and no one spoke on the drive back to Mumbai.
SINDHISHAAN hopes this report on the plight of the Ulhasnagar residents will act as an impetus to the members of the Sindhi community to come forward in solidarity and contribute their mite towards arriving at a just, reasonable and HUMANE SOLUTION.