Pratibha, city's first tower of graft, to be demolished

Mar 20 2015 : The Times of India (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 floo rs, stands to pave the way for the reconstruction of a new building there. Much before the Adarsh and Campa Cola controversies hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons, there was the Pratibha issue.When the building was completed in 1984, with only finishing work left, it was detected that construction was carried out far in excess of the permitted FSI by manipulating the plot area, which was shown as 9,232 sq m when it was actually 7,197.4 sq m. 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. He 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 recovered from the society . Several legal battles ensued. During a round of litigation, the society agreed to one of the five modes the high court (HC) 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 urged the HC 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, a revised property card is required with the set back 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 HC. He said the officers were refusing to carry out their statutory duty on the pretext that they need the HC's permission. “This is stifling reconstruction,“ he said.

After perusing the earlier HC orders on Pratibha, a bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice A R Joshi on February 20 ordered: “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 the order.The deadline is almost over.The BMC, on receiving the revised property card, will issue permission to the society , along with the sanctioned plan, to carry out demolition.