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Demolition drive at Raghuvanshi Mills soon

‘Bigger fire trap than Kamala Mills’

BMC probe reveals almost all establishments at Raghuvanshi Mills have carried out illegal alterations; court stay orders stand between them and demolition

Three months after unauthorised constructions and violation of fire safety norms at Kamala Mills led to a fire that killed 14 people, the findings of a BMC probe have revealed that the neighbouring Raghuvanshi Mills is an even bigger fire trap. Almost every single establishment in the premises has carried out illegal construction and violation of fire safety norms, the report says. With Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta forming a high-level team, led by Additional Municipal Commissioner AL Jarad, to take action against violators in Raghuvanshi Mills, the BMC hammer will soon fall on many establishments there. The first plan of action is to get the court stays, which the establishments have managed to get, vacated.

A senior civic official who is part of the probe team said that almost every single establishment has carried out illegal constructions, unauthorised extensions and change of user, without any permission. “This is a fire trap and possibly more dangerous than Kamala Mills. In Kamala Mills, restaurant owners took some permissions, but in Raghuvanshi Mills, no permissions have been taken. The structures were originally meant for textile mill but no textile activity is carried out there,” the official said.

According to the enquiry’s findings, since 2007, the BMC has issued notices to 16 structures for unauthorised constructions and alterations, including Astro Sports that has been running a football turf on a rooftop inside the mill compound, but the owners of all these structures have obtained stay orders in their favour from the court. And the BMC’s law department, opposition leaders allege, has made sure that the status quo remains, even as owners of the shops and restaurants continue with their business unhindered.

With Mehta directing officials to take stern action, the BMC is now issuing fresh notices to illegal structures in the compound. Officials from the law department, who had looked the other way and connived with owners, have also been shunted out. “We have begun issuing fresh notices. Each case is being studied and we are deploying a special team of officials and lawyers to get the court stays vacated. It looks like the owners, with the help of our officials have misled the court too. Once the stays are vacated, we will begin demolition action,” the official added.

The Khimji Bhagwandas Charity Trust that owns the land on which the former mill stood claims that the same nexus of BMC engineers, RTI activists and local politicians that turned Kamala Mills into a death trap is responsible for converting Raghuvanshi Mills into a ticking time bomb. “We have been submitting written complaints to the BMC for the last three to four years. The BMC issues notices but after that no action is taken. There is illegal construction in almost every establishment in this mill compound. Once notices are issued, the BMC’s law department fails to respond, and the owners get a stay. The stay goes on for many years,” Satish Vitlani, one of the trustees had told Mirror earlier.

According to details accessed by Mumbai Mirror, the BMC has issued notices to 16 structures inside the mill compound since 2012. For instance, Astro Sports was issued a notice for illegal constructions for its open sky astro turf in June 2016 by the designated officer of the G-South ward. Later, the owners moved the City Civil Court and got a stay on the BMC’s notice. Relief was later refused on June 23 but the BMC is yet to carry out any demolition at the sports facility. In almost all the 16 cases, the BMC issued notices under the MMC or MRTP Act and allowed owners who had carried out illegal constructions to get a stay from the court.

Soon after the fire at Kamala Mills, the BMC carried out demolitions at P22 building that houses Sheesha Sky Lounge at Raghuvanshi Mills.

“This is a big nexus between the BMC’s Designated Officers (DOs) and the law department. Once the notice is issued, the law department doesn’t represent the case at all and allows the owners to get relief. Once the status quo is granted, it’s business as usual. In fact, I had personally complained to the municipal commissioner about this but nothing was done. Now that a high level team has been formed, the BMC must begin demolition. The BMC must also suspend the erring officials of the law department,” said corporator Manoj Kotak, BJP leader in the BMC.

BMC chief Ajoy Mehta confirmed that he had asked officials to take action against violators at Raghuvanshi Mills. “I have asked the Additional Municipal Commissioner A L Jarad to form a team and take action as per procedure against all illegal construction and violations,” Mehta told Mumbai Mirror.

► Since 2007, the BMC has issued notices to 16 structures for unauthorised constructions and alterations

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