The Bombay High Court pulled up the BMC saying its “constant delay” in filing replies was preventing the court from deciding several important cases, especially those related to dilapidated buildings needing to be demolished.
“Tomorrow if any building collapses in Mumbai, both the BMC and the court will be equally responsible for it,” a bench of Justices B R Gavai and M S Karnik observed.
Taking note of the recent incidents of building collapse in the city and the loss of lives, the court said it is often unable to order demolition of a dilapidated building solely as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is “unprepared” to present its side of arguments, or that it has failed to file its reply in the case.
“So many developers come to us seeking protection from demolition and we are forced to grant them relief because either your (BMC) counsel has no idea of the case and has no instructions from your officers, or because you have not filed your reply. In several cases like these, the BMC is yet to file its reply since 2012,” the bench said.
The bench also directed the BMC Commissioner to take strict action against its officers, who knowingly issued erroneous structural audit reports for dilapidated buildings.
It said that in several cases, where developers sought protection from demolition, it had noticed that there were “always two contradictory structural audit reports.”
“One party brings a report saying the building is dilapidated and needs to be demolished, while the other party brings in a report stating that the building is totally fine,” the bench said.
“Its apparent, therefore, that some of your structure audit officers are knowingly issuing false reports. You must take cognisance of this and initiate strict action against the erring officers,” the bench said.
The observations came while the bench was hearing an explanation from civic chief Ajoy Mehta on the BMCs “lackadaisical” approach to important cases, in which it is a party.
Mehta, who was present in court in compliance with the summons issued to him last week, blamed the “vast area under BMCs jurisdiction and inadequate staff” in its law department for the same.
He said that the corporation currently has just “89 law officers to handle the 90,000 ongoing cases in various courts in the city as well as the apex court.”
“While 74 of these law officers handle court cases, the remaining 15 handle office work. On any given day, the civic body has to tackle around 1,500 cases,” Mehta said.
The court, however, said that this was no excuse for the performance of the corporations lawyers in court. It also reminded Mehta that the BMC was “one of the richest in the country and had a budget larger than that of several Indian states”.
Justice Gavai suggested the civic body to take a cue from the Maharashtra government that probably had to deal with “an equal amount of litigation” as the BMC.
He suggested that the BMC should follow the states model of appointing a “panel of lawyers to deal exclusively with the cases pending in the high court”.
“The law officers on your payroll can be assigned the cases in lower courts. This will result in continuity and better efficiency,” Justice Gavai said.
Mehta, in turn, submitted that the corporation was already in the process of “streamlining its law department”.
He said that the strength of the BMCs law department will be increased soon and the civic body now has in place an integrated online system to keep track of all pending litigation, the lawyers appointed, the status of each case, and the money spent on the same.