The shock that the civic society went through with the loss of 14 innocent lives in the horrific Mumbai fire tragedy is still fresh in public memory. The despair and the pain of it can never ever be forgotten and no words can ever express what it meant for the families of the victims. The tragic incident should have been an eye opener for the authorities and especially, for the officials of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Yet, nothing concrete has been done and on the contrary, BMC is busy harboring those very elements that are at the root of such horrible incidents.

In the matter of transfer petition Janhit Manch vs. the State of Maharashtra, dated 31-07-2017, Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken a massive cognizance of this and has explicitly stated that “the development carried out by builders in buildings, which is to house hundreds of people, is not a question of the rights of builders alone.”The Hon’ble Court further stated that the life and safety of occupants is a matter of public importance and the issues relate to public safety and well being and need to be decided at the earliest.

Despite these critical comments and the fact that intense public opinion is involved in this matter, another illegal project “PALAIS ROYALE” is coming up in Mumbai. This project is an existential den of corrupt activities and brazen violations of building and fire safety. In fact, it is a documented fact in public domain that the whole project of PALAIS ROYALE has been conceptualized on falsehood and hazards, with no regard to the potential dangers that it poses to human safety.

As reported by the Times of India on January 28, 2016, 13 upper floors have been deemed illegal. This was described as a blow to the much touted “India’s tallest skyscraper”.

It is much known that the developer of Palais Royale, India’s tallest residential building (294 m), will have to pay the BMC Rs 162 crore as premium and penalties for constructing a 15-storey public parking tower at Worli Naka without permissions. Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta ordered the levy after the Bombay high court directed the commissioner to decide its fate following a petition challenging its legality.

The controversial project has been embroiled in litigation for the past four years after NGO Janhit Manch dragged the developer, Shree Ram Urban Infrastructure Ltd (SRUIL), to court for large-scale violations. The NGO said the public parking tower is illegal.

Under the state government’s cross-subsidy policy, the developer received permission to build a 15-storey parking tower in 2010, which it has to hand over free of cost to the BMC for public parking. In return, the developer will receive additional construction rights in the form of incentive floor space index (FSI) for the residential tower named Palais Royale.

However in 2011, the BMC changed its policy, restricting the height of public parking lots up to four floors.

By then, SRUIL had procured construction permission only up to the plinth level. However, it continued to build the entire parking tower before Janhit Manch challenged the legality on the grounds that sanction was only till the plinth level. The municipal corporation too directed the developer to build the parking tower according to the new policy (four floors).

The developer challenged this order reducing the number of floors from 15 to four in the high court. Last year, the Bombay high court allowed the developer to apply for regularization of the multi-level public parking lot above the plinth, stating that the developer would have to apply for a fresh commencement certificate. The developer’s plea against recalculating the FSI of the building, as it had already invested over Rs 2,000 crore in the project and completed construction, was also rejected by the court. The builder also said that the tower with 900 parking lots was in public interest. The HC disagreed saying “but for the incentive FSI (that the developer could claim) they would not have constructed it for social service“.

Following the high court’s directive, the BMC reviewed the parking tower and concluded that it had “substantially progressed’’ and that the builder had incurred Rs 165 crore on it. “As such, it is not practically possible to amend the public parking lot and propose a building with four floors as there is no space available,’’ said the BMC. The civic chief then decided to charge premium amounting to Rs 118 crore on the builder and another 44 crore as penalty.

Besides the parking tower, the land also holds the 294-metre, 56-storeyed Palais Royale skyscraper, which too has been embroiled in a controversy over illegal constructions. Last year, the commissioner ordered the developer to seal or rupture four fire refuge floors and large refuge areas outside each apartment so that they cannot be misused.

As much as 74% of the total built-up area (5.88 lakh sq ft) of the skyscraper has been shown as fire refuge area. This was sanctioned by the then chief fire officer when the building plans were approved about eight years ago. Mehta wants the fire refuge area reduced to around 30%; Mehta’s predecessor Sitaram Kunte had ordered that they are restricted to just 4% of the built-up area. Mehta also ordered that large refuge areas outside each apartment in the 56-storey tower be punctured or blocked. This will prevent flat owners from illegally amalgamating the areas -adjoining the bedroom and drawing room –to the apartments.

The fact that such a highly touted project was seen as the forerunner in India’s infrastructural development, speaks volumes about the pervading misuse of regulations by  SRUIL and the illegal framework that supports such a criminal mechanism.