Two sides are playing tag over a TAC report, on whether the almost 56-year-old commercial building of 13 floors is repairable or needs to be pulled down.
Calling for replies from parties including the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the HC, however, will finally consider the bigger issue of a civic policy for unsafe buildings.
“When we hear the parties finally, we will also have to consider the effect in law of such guidelines adopted by a local body following interim directions of a court. Specifically, we will have to examine whether such guidelines, being still and always in the nature of guidelines, can ever create enforceable rights in favor of private individuals,” the HC bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale on September 25.
The bench said on a rough reckoning there are at least seven different proceedings pending that concern Mehta Mahal, once owned by a Charitable Trust.
Based on a 2021 report by its Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), the BMC permitted Mehta Mahal Commercial Cooperative Premises Society Ltd to undertake urgent repairs to the building.
Drishti Hospitality Company Pvt Ltd which is one of the owners of the property says premises are now renamed ‘Drishti House’.
The Society says it is still, ‘Mehta Mahal’.
Both the Society and Drishti petitioned the HC.
Drishti Hospitality through senior counsel Sharan Jagtiani and advocate Manoj Agiwal cited an IIT Bombay report that terms building ‘dangerous’ and in need of demolition to seek orders for the Society to produce a rival structural report if its wishes so that matter may be referred to TAC again.
The Society through its counsel Karl Tamboly and advocate Samit Shukla said pursuant to TAC report, it had sought and got permissions for repairs, which it has undertaken and 70 percent work is complete.
The permission is valid till July 8, 2024 and has not been directly challenged.
Drishti through its counsel disputed the amount of repair work done.
The HC noted each side seriously disputes anything the other side says.
The HC in its September 25 order said “it is difficult to see how a repair permission granted by the MCGM on the basis of a TAC report can now be scuttled or short-circuited by producing yet another report and demanding a fresh reference to the TAC. The time for the repairs has not yet passed—it is till July 2024. The repairs are not yet complete. Nobody has stayed or canceled the repair permission granted by the MCGM.”
Observing that it will need to consider the entire structure of this TAC and resultant guidelines of May 2018 issued by the BMC for dangerous and unsafe buildings, the HC called for replies from all parties including civic administration and posted the matter to November 2.
Justice Patel and Gokhale said the HC had earlier noted that the “guidelines for declaring private and Municipal buildings as C-1 category (dangerous and unsafe”” were meant to serve as some sort of a check or balance against unilateral declarations of buildings as dilapidated or unsafe by property owners in connivance with the municipal officers.
But that is not the same as saying the guidelines create a new bundle of enforceable rights to demand constantly that parties must reassess the buildings independently.
What is a TAC?
Technical Advisory committee (TAC) is a technical expert body.
Its constitution is drawn from experts from the Municipal Corporation itself to determine structural stability and options for a building.
WHAT HC said:
The TAC is not a quasi-judicial nor an administrative body.
Other than a procedural irregularity or some form of violation of the principles of natural justice or a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India that is facially demonstrated, no interference is possible with the recommendations of the TAC.
It is not possible to substitute the opinion of a TAC with an opinion of a court, least of all the Writ Court.
Though TAC is an expert body, it has “unfortunately generated” a whole new species of litigation where the TAC’s expert opinion on technical structural engineering matters is now seen as some sort of administrative or quasi judicial action rather than what it is, — a factual report on technical aspects of structural stability.
TAC reports are now being perennially sought to be subjected to judicial review before the HC.