Shocked by fraud in slum rehabilitation at BKC, Bombay HC seeks SRA policy review, ET RealEstate

June 23, 2023

MUMBAI: Expressing shock over the “frightening” levels of fraud in a slum rehabilitation scheme at BKC, the HC slammed the overall state of affairs relating to slum redevelopment and called for an effort “to stop trafficking and profiteering.” Tenancy rights for the slum units had exchanged hands earlier for up to Rs 2.3 crore, the HC was informed by the developer undertaking the work at BKC.

The HC said there’s a need to revisit the policy and re-think the law which has a “built-in assurance of a capital asset being given free for…trespass on public land.” It suggested that slum dwellers should enjoy rights to use the flats allocated rather than ownership rights which can be transferred or sold.

SRA must be insulated from political links: HC

The Bombay HC said on Tuesday it was suggesting a relook at the policy because the city is not slum free 50 years after the slum rehabilitation law was enacted.

“The Slum Act is of 1971. It was supposed to have generated in 2-3 years a large stock of affordable housing,” said the bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale adding, “We don’t believe that the city is now slum free…We therefore only suggest that the policy needs to be reconsidered appropriately at the highest level.”

The HC was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by slum dwellers and a new developer-Budhpur Buildcon Pvt Ltd-of a large slum scheme at Kolekalyan in the Bandra Kurla Complex which was earlier being developed by HDIL, which is now facing insolvency proceedings.

While the slum dwellers were seeking arrears in transit rent and complaining of “illegal occupants”, the new builder, an Adani group company, said the slum dwellers’ 2019 petition suppressed data that showed 64 out of 111 of them had transferred their tenancy rights for substantial amounts, with one slum-dwelling unit ‘purchased’ for Rs 2.3 crore, while two others for over Rs 1 crore each by Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) in 2006-2008.

The HC remarked that as a “long term” move, it would be necessary to “insulate” the affairs of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) from political connections.The HC on Tuesday appointed a court receiver to take notional possession, of the slum rehabilitation project at Kolekalyan and passed a slew of directions including that an SRA special officer must identify the number of trespassers and transferees. Senior counsel Milind Sathe for SRA said the slum scheme has a 10-year lock-in period, only after which allottees could sell or transfer their rights to third parties.

Justice Patel, dictating the order, said, “we will be utterly remiss in discharging our duty if we didn’t point out that there is now a need to revisit the policy.” He suggested that instead of free flats, which are essentially an asset which can be sold despite the lock-in period, what if eligible hutment dwellers are given a place with rights to only use and reside, not ownership, and that they pay a premium to SRA for every further transfer of such rights.

Budhpur Buildcon through counsel Mayur Khandeparkar, had sought amendment of a March 2022 HC order which said SRA need not re-assess eligibility of slum dwellers whose eligibility it had already accepted. Its application was filed in response to a petition by 31 slum dwellers seeking arrears of transit rent. The builder, Budhpur, said documents it received from the HDIL resolution professional – an officer appointed by the National Company Law Tribunal in the insolvency proceedings against HDIL-showed that 64 out of 111 slum dwellers had already transferred their tenements to former developer HDIL in or around 2006 and 2007 and received substantial amounts, with some other petitioning slum-dwellers getting over Rs 1 crore.

“These numbers are not only frightening but they point to what we can only describe as ongoing fraud on the Statute,” said the HC.

There were other groups of slum-dwellers from the BKC project, one represented by advocate Akash Rebello and other by advocate Gulnar Mistry, who also petitioned the HC. They claimed transit rents were unpaid for a decade for 30-odd eligible dwellers. They said “illegal occupants” were infused in the scheme, while in a counter claim Khandeparkar said several of them were paid lump sum for tenancy rights earlier. One set of petitioners through counsel Karl Tamboly said they were transferred rights to new rehab homes from original eligible slumdwellers.

  • Published On Jun 21, 2023 at 08:46 AM IST

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