Wholesale racketeering, trafficking in rehab tenements causing colossal loss: Bombay HC

Wholesale racketeering in Mumbai and illegal trafficking in rehabilitation tenements was causing a colossal loss, the Bombay High Court has said.

It is now necessary to find means by which the state government and the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) are vested with summary powers to evict those who are not original allottees, a division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Kamal Khata said on Monday.

The court said it sees no reason why the government should not have a “draconian” provision to take back such tenements and use them for other public purposes.

“If there was such illegal trafficking in rehab tenements then we see no reason why the SRA and the state government should not have a provision, draconian though it may be, in support of the primacy of the rule of law to ensure that those premises are resumed by SRA or the state in vacant possession condition,” it said.

“They can possibly be used as PAP (project affected persons) houses or for other public purposes. In a city that is chronically starved of adequate affordable housing, it seems to us utterly balanced to permit individuals to profiteer at public expense like this,” the court said.

The HC, which was hearing a plea filed by 89 people seeking disbursement of transit rent, noted that several of the original tenants had illicitly sold/ transferred the rehab premises or illicitly given them on rent or license basis.

Some steps need to be taken regarding these illegal transfers of SRA’s rehab tenements, the bench said.

The allotment of free-of-cost ownership rehab housing is supposedly accompanied by a transfer restriction, that is no transfers for 10 years, the court said.

“The SRA does not seem to have any mechanism in place at all for controlling these transfers. If it does, it is not working, because otherwise we would not have these cases,” the HC said.

The court said Aadhaar-based and biometric authentication is one possible solution, but it is now necessary to find means by which the SRA and the state government are vested with summary powers to evict any person who is not the original allottee and not a heir of the allottee and is impermissibly in occupation and possession of a free of cost ownership rehab tenement.

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“We say this because it seems to us that there is wholesale racketeering in this city and trafficking in rehab tenements. The loss is colossal,” the HC said.

The bench said it would not frame a policy or direct framing of a particular kind of policy, but would go the necessary distance to identify the areas that need to be addressed by the state government.

“It is our duty to enforce and uphold provisions of the law including the restriction on transfer and make appropriate orders for the removal of persons found to be in unauthorised occupation,” the court said.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on October 26 and sought the assistance of the Advocate General.

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