Bombay HC Acknowledges Right to Live in Safe Buildings as Fundamental Right

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Bombay HC initiates a suo moto Public Interest Litigation in light of the recent events surrounding the collapse of residential buildings. The Court notes that the respective Municipal Authorities must take timely steps to prevent such incidents and grants them time to file Reply Affidavits.

Background

On 21st September 2020, a building called “Jilani Building” situated in Bhiwandi, Mumbai collapsed and 38 people have succumbed due to the same. The building was not included in the list of dangerous structures notified by the Bhiwandi Nizampur Municipal Corporation. Even though several notices in respect of the building were issued to the landowner/developer – Shri Sayyed Ahmed Jilani by the Municipal Corporation, no action has been taken till date. In light of this and several other building collapses in recent times, the Bombay HC decided to suo moto institute a PIL.

Court’s Observations

The Court noticed that incidents related to building collapse have become a frequent phenomenon, especially during the monsoon season. The Court referred to a news report dated 24th September 2020 issued by the Economic Times according to which 1472 incidents of building collapses took place in Mumbai during 2015-2019 in which 106 people were killed and 344 were injured. The Court also expressed concern due to the sad state of affairs and in doing so laid down the following issues to be answered – 

  1. Whether the Municipal Bodies are completely helpless to prevent building collapses and prevent loss of lives?
  2. Whether there is any machinery available with the Municipal Bodies to prevent such incidents?
  3. In addition to old buildings, whether newly constructed buildings (thirty/forty years old) are prone to collapsing?
  4. Is there a procedure to identify buildings that are likely to collapse?
  5. Is there a mechanism to conduct a structural audit of the buildings?
  6. Whether there is a need for a uniform mechanism regarding the aforesaid applicable to Municipal Bodies?
  7. Whether there is a mechanism to fix accountability on the concerned persons for not having taken any action against illegal construction?
  8. Whether a survey has been conducted regarding unauthorized structures/buildings in each of the Municipal areas and the steps to be taken to manage the same?
  9. Whether there is a need for a public grievance cell that citizens can approach with complaints?

The Court expressed their prima facie opinion that the right of the citizens to live in safe buildings and the environment is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is the absolute obligation of the Municipal Authorities in whose jurisdiction such a building is located to take timely steps as they are presumed to have complete knowledge of such conditions of the buildings. The Bombay High Court strongly urged the local civic bodies and the State Government to take concrete and effective steps to prevent the loss of innocent lives.

Court’s Order

Having made the aforesaid observations, the Bench – Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni – issued a notice to the Municipal Corporations/respondents to submit Reply Affidavits on or before 15th October 2020.


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