The story of hundreds of residents of the Campa Cola Compound residential society in South Mumbai`s posh Worli area, who have been fighting a long battle to save their homes, became national headlines when the civic authorities began the process of demolishing their illegal apartments recently. The builders had permission for only five floors but seven high-rises were constructed at the Campa Cola Compound between 1981 and 1989. One of the buildings, Midtown, has 20 floors. Another building, Orchid, has 17 and there is one building with 8, one with 7 and there with 6 floors.
However, the Supreme Court came to their rescue and gave them relief, but only for some time. The apex court stayed the demolition but at the same time ordered that residents of unauthorised flats in Campa Cola compound will have to vacate their premises by May 31, 2014. Manisha Singh of Zee Media talked to the one of the residents Karan Sethia and tried to understand as to what they have gone through in their effort to save their homes.
Q. What are your emotions now that the SC has asked the residents to vacate the flats?
Karan Sethia: As a 23 year old having just completed my Bachelor`s in Business Administration in May 2012, I was looking forward to entering the "real" world, by starting a business of my own. After taking some time off, I finally decided on exploring the potential of staring my own cafe around November 2012. However, in December 2012, my plans, my preparation, all went for a toss, as I got the biggest shock of my life. I learnt that we had a case going on in the Supreme Court, in which if the verdict went against us, we could lose our home.
Q. It must have been an emotional setback for the family?
Karan Sethia: The home that my family moved into when I was just two years old; the home where I have grown up, seen the marriages of my sisters, seen the demise of my grandfather; the home, which till that point on, I took for granted, the one constant in my life, everything was about to change. I got involved from that point on, helping in whatever way I could. I helped in collection of documents and doing errands which required running around. But on February 27, 2013, our worst nightmare came true when the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of 102 flats including mine. It is heart wrenching to think about the possibility of our home being demolished. My father worked hard in his business to save money to buy this house. My mother made the house into a home. And then to be told that it could all be taken away is simply beyond our understanding.
Q. What did you do to save your home?
Karan Sethia: I decided to get involved in attempts to save our homes and take on more responsibility. On 26 April this year, when we got notices to evict our homes within 48 hours, I felt there was a need to make our story heard to a larger audience. That day I decided to start our facebook page - www.facebook.com/savecampacola. Since then I have been heading the social media campaign stretching it to Twitter, You-tube and a chance.org petition. It has really been heart-warming to see the support we have received online not just from Mumbai and other parts of India, but from all over the world as well.
Q. How have other residents been coping up?
Karan Sethia: The whole episode has brought the entire compound together as one big family. We have gone through moments of hell together. We faced hundreds of policemen and BMC officials outside our gates on 02 May and 12 and 13 November this year. We shared moments of pure joy and relief when the stay order was passed. There have been ups and downs, but we have faced it together like one big family.
Q. How has your family coped in these difficult times?
Karan Sethia: In this whole episode, the most difficult thing has been to see my parents and grandmother go through something that they do not deserve at this age. Seeing the stress and fear on their face and tears in the eyes is difficult. It saddens me immensely. I don`t understand how something like this can happen to us. We have paid stamp duty, got our flats registered, paid property taxes for 25 years, and also received clear title certificates.
Q. But you cannot deny the fact that the construction is unauthorised?
Karan Sethia: The builder committed mistakes and the authorities turned a blind eye during construction but it is the flat owners who are being punished. This is not just the story of Campa Cola residents, but of common people in many other parts in the country. Even today, when a building is being constructed in Mumbai, and other parts of India, you do not know when you will get the OC. My dad bought the house in 1992 paying the rates that were prevalent in Worli at that time. The title of the house was clear; all government charges were paid and duly accepted. The building did not have an OC, but it is a very common occurrence that a building in Mumbai gets an OC much after completion. And in the case of Campa Cola, you are talking about 25 years ago. The builder promised us that the OC would be given with time. But it never happened.
Unfortunately it’s a very common practice. The builders promise the flat buyers certain plans, and then flout the norms later on. And the price has to be paid by the flat owners like in the case of Campa Cola Compound. The common man is cheated by the system time and time again and not just when they buy homes but in every stream of life. As a youth of this country, I feel dismayed by the situation that is prevailing in our country. I, like other youngsters in the compound, have completely lost faith in the system. At this moment I am simply angry and disenchanted.
Q. Do you still have hope that some solution can be arrived at and all of you may be able to save you homes?
Karan Sethia: I know we are not wrong. I know what we are asking for is our right. Right now, it`s like we have been punished and ordered a slow and torturous death. I really hope we can find a solution sooner rather than later.