As per the latest news reports, the developer of the 294-metre Palais Roy ale, India’s tallest residential tower at Worli Naka, will have to seal or rupture four fire refuge floors and large refuge areas outside each apartment so that they cannot be misused. This is part of a report by municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta that will be submitted to Bombay high court. The developer, Shree Ram Urban Infrastructure, has been embroiled in long-running litigation after NGO Janhit Manch dragged it to court for large-scale violations. The biggest shocker is the finding that 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.
The civic administration may launch a separate inquiry on why such large refuge areas, prone to misuse, were allowed by the fire department. The civic chief now wants the fire refuge area reduced to around 30%; Mehta’s predecessor Sitaram Kunte had ordered that they be restricted to just 4% of the built-up area. TOI has learnt that Mehta’s report, coming on a directive from the high court, has 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 developer will also be told to make a supplementary agreement with the flat buyers, stating that these areas cannot be used. The refuge area outside each of the 144 apartments is around 550 sq ft (size of a one BHK home). However, fire refuge areas abutting the balconies will be allowed.
Mehta had inspected the building early this month and found the refuge areas excessive, raising suspicion that these spaces would be illegally turned into habitable areas. The four refuge floors that will be ordered to be sealed are on the 23rd, 32nd, 42nd and 52nd floors. “They will have to be made uninhabitable,” said a civic source. The report is also believed to have said that structural columns, except those in the refuge areas, will be counted in the building’s floor space index (FSI). Once the report is submitted to court, the developer will have to submit a modified building plan to the BMC for approval. When building plans were approved in the last decade, refuge areas, passages, swimming pools and structural columns were not included in the FSI. In 2013, the BMC ordered that areas be now counted as part of it.FSI is a ratio that determines how much can be built on a plot. Kunte’s report in 2013 had made scathing observations about the project. “The builder tried to install the project, at times in defiance of regulations. This act of defiance was evident in the construction of the 44th to 56th floors when BMC permission was only up to the 43th floor.This is a very serious matter…” NGO Janhit Manch, which filed a PIL against the project, wrote last month to the Chief Fire Officer, saying “the wrongdoing by your predecessors and same exploited by the builder need to be corrected… It is the responsibility of your good self to ensure the BMC stand in court matters of restricting the refuge areas granted free of FSI to 4% is upheld and maintained”.
The denial mode in which SRUIL is trying to invest its monumental development failures can be gauged from the fact that no resolutions have been passed by the BoD over the now-proven allegations of large-scale violations of fire safety and building regulations. The whole process of making profit with no regard to human lives is what SRUIL has done and is still seeking ways to do. The consequences are not hard to imagine in any manner, the latest fire tragedy in Mumbai being a grim reminder of that. The question remains – why the officials of SRUIL have not yet been arrested and why no criminal proceedings have been initiated yet? Are the authorities waiting in apprehension for another tragedy to claim innocent lives ?