Repair or demolish? Bombay HC to examine civic guidelines for unsafe buildings, ET RealEstate
MUMBAI: The legal tangle of Mehta Mahal, dubbed by the Bombay high court as one of the most disputed properties in south Mumbai, could determine if a local body’s guidelines could “ever create enforceable rights in favour of private individuals”.
The 56-year-old commercial building on Mathew Road, a narrow lane leading from Charni Road to the rear of Opera House, is back in court for a fresh battle, over a 2021 report by an expert panel constituted by the BMC on its structural stability.
Based on the report by its technical advisory committee (TAC), the BMC had allowed Mehta Mahal Commercial Cooperative Premises Society Ltd to undertake urgent repairs to the building. Drishti Hospitality Company Pvt Ltd, which is one of the owners of the property, said the premises is now renamed ‘Drishti House’ and cited an IIT-Bombay report that tagged the building ‘dangerous’ and in need of demolition. Both the society and Drishti Hospitality petitioned the HC. The pleas seek orders on whether the13-floor building could be repaired or needs to be pulled down.
The HC will also consider the bigger issue of a civic policy for unsafe buildings. “When we hear the parties finally, we will also have to consider the effect in law of such guidelines adopted by a local body following interim directions of a court. Specifically, we will have to examine whether such guidelines, being still and always in the nature of guidelines, can ever create enforceable rights in favour of private individuals,” the HC bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale said on September 25.
The bench said there are at least seven different proceedings pending over Mehta Mahal, which was once owned by a charitable trust.
Drishti Hospitality, through senior counsel Sharan Jagtiani and advocate Manoj Agiwal, cited the IIT-Bombay report to seek orders for the Society to produce a rival structural report if it wishes so that the matter may be referred to the TAC again.
The society, through its counsel Karl Tamboly and advocate Samit Shukla, said pursuant to the 2021 TAC report, it had sought and got permissions for repairs, and that 70% of the work has been completed. The permission is valid till July 8, 2024, and has not been directly challenged. Drishti Hospitality disputed the quantum of repairs done.
The HC noted that each side seriously disputes anything the other states. “It is difficult to see how a repair permission granted by the MCGM on the basis of a TAC report can now be scuttled or short-circuited by producing yet another report and demanding a fresh reference to the TAC,” it said, noting that the repairs were still on.
The matter will next be heard on November 2.