Condemned Buildings in Kolkata: KMC Must ActKolkata witnessed a tragedy when an old, dilapidated building (declared condemned by the citys civic body, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation) collapsed in crowded Central part of the city and two people died, crushed and choked under the debris.
By Sunil Garodia
The building was slated for a makeover, having been bought by a promoter. Some tenants had been shifted, but others were still living a dangerous life in a building that was standing precariously. The city (like most other cities in India) has been witnessing a huge tussle between promoters and tenants occupying old structures. While tenants ask for the moon to vacate the premises to facilitate redevelopment, the promoters often offer much less and sometimes even use strong arm tactics to eject tenants. The case of Prabhu Agarwal, the owner of Haldirams Prabhuji wing, is fresh in peoples mind when he was accused of ordering the elimination of a tenant not willing to vacate the premises he had acquired. While promoters often point out that tenants have been paying peanuts as rents (some even defaulting on that small amount) and do not deserve the kings ransom they demand for moving out, tenants often cite that their forefathers had paid huge salami (an upfront cash component one needed to pay to take possession of rental property some decades ago) to acquire the lease and they are only demanding that back, with interest of course. Several prime plots remain undeveloped for this reason, with tenants often uniting and entangling the promoter in court cases.
But when buildings are on the verge of falling down, the time has come for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and the state government to do something more than just hang a board (see the lead picture) saying that the building in condemned and not livable. If the government can give huge amounts to the poor to construct houses, it can also take over these dilapidated buildings (if the owner is unable or unwilling to redevelop them) and reconstruct them to benefit the tenants. If it does not want to get involved in construction, as the next best alternative, it can have a body (perhaps a wing of the civic body) that can broker peace between the tenants and the owner/promoter and ensure redevelopment after an honest and just settlement. Some of these buildings have more than 100 tenants and are hugely vulnerable. Despite the warning by the civic body and the inherent danger of living in a building that might collapse any day, these tenants do not move out because they have nowhere to go. More such tragedies will happen if the KMC and the state government are not proactive in this regard.