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Campa Cola Episode,EPW article by Anand Teltumbde


Campa Cola Episode,EPW article

Baring the Ugly Bias 

Anand Teltumbde

Now that the Supreme Court 

has taken suo motu notice of 

the plight of the Campa Cola 

residents, will it show the same 

sensitivity with regard to the 

cases of the poor too?

Anand Teltumbde ( is a 

writer and civil rights activist with the 

Committee for the Protection of Democratic 

Rights, Mumbai. 

10 december 7, 2013 vol xlviii no 49 EPW Economic & Political Weekly

redictably, the high drama on 


12 November at the Campa Cola 

compound in south Mumbai's posh

Worli area ended the following day when 

the Supreme Court stayed the demolition 

until 31 May 2014. The jubilant residents 

celebrated with crackers and festivities, 

for it barely took less than 24 hours for the 

media-backed, "middle-class" campaign 

to prevent the impending execution of 

the Supreme Court order to demolish the 

illegal construction in the compound. 

Politicians, cutting across parties, vied with 

each other to express solidarity with the 

residents. The electronic media took up 

the crusade, scheduled panel discussions 

with socialites to drum up "public" support 

for the Campa Cola residents, continuously 

streaming the pictures of the spirited 

resistance the latter had put up against the 

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's 

(BMCs) demolition squad. Social media too 

was afi re to muster support. Seeing the 

"plight of the residents", even the Supreme 

Court melted and suo motu stayed the 

demolition. For those two days, Campa 

Cola was the only news in the country! 

Those of us who have been a part of the 

struggle against demolition of slums in 

Mumbai and the millions of slum-dwellers 

who have actually suffered the pain of 

witnessing the demolition of their modest 

homes over the last two decades amus-
edly watched this bizarre spectacle. The 

people who built Bombay with their sweat 

and blood and who slog to maintain 

Mumbai's shine repeatedly face the bru-
tality of BMC's bulldozers without any of 

these worthies – the media, the politicians, 

the highbrow socialites, and even the 

judiciary – ever taking a note of it. They 

were stunned to see BMC offi cials, who 

other wise did not care even for the new-
borns of the slum-dwellers, "behaving 

in a humane manner". Paradoxically, the 

entire episode was played up as a refl ection 

of the indifference of the system for the 

"middle classes", this in sharp contrast 

to the pampering of slum-dwellers. It 

verily exposed, once more, the monu-
mental falsehood of the ruling establish-
ment and its abhorrence for the poor.

Apt Case for Demolition

The media painted the episode as a simple 

case of cheating of gullible buyers of fl ats 

by unscrupulous builders in collusion with 

corrupt BMC offi cials sheltered by politi-
cians. Given the fact that the realty busi-
ness in Mumbai and elsewhere is based on 

black money, corruption and criminality, 

this projection did not violate common-
place understanding. But unfortunately, 

the Campa Cola case is not as plain as that. 

The residents of the Campa Cola com-
pound, who feign innocence, were com-
plicit in the criminality of the builders as 

they knew what they were doing right

from the beginning. As it is well known

by now, the plot in the Campa Cola com-
pound, belonging to Pure Drinks, was

developed by three builders in the 1980s.

They had permission to build only six

fl oors but they went beyond the permis-
sible limit and eventually built 17 and 20

fl oors, thereby creating 96 unauthorised

fl ats. They ignored stop-work notices right

from November 1984 hoping that they

would be able to get the fl ats regularised 

by paying the required penalty. One of the 

building's architects has himself testifi ed

that everyone from the residents to the 

local politicians knew the structures being 

built were in violation of the stop-work 

notices. The fl ats were a steal and the 

residents, who were well connected and 

who had enough appetite for risk, 

grabbed them. When the BMC did not give 

an Occupation Certifi cate and provide a 

water connection, the residents appro-
ached Bombay High Court in 1999. 

They fought doggedly a 20-year legal 

battle but could not succeed in regularis-
ing the illegal construction. When the 

residents appealed against the verdict of

the trial court, the high court had noted 

that the residents knew that they had 

bought fl ats which were constructed in

violation of sanctioned plans. The Sup-
reme Court, while dealing with their 


appeal, gave its verdict in February 2013, 

which not only noted what the lower 

courts had observed (that the residents 

were not innocent) but also that the resi-
dents were infl uential enough to get the 

state government regularise the irregu-
larity. It thereby fortifi ed itself by pre-
venting the state government from arbi-
trary intervention. As the chief minister 

repeatedly expressed his helplessness in 

the matter, one can imagine that this was 

a palpable possibility. There is no doubt 

that the builders and the chain of BMC 

bureaucrats violated the law but, unlike 

numerous other cases, the rich residents 

of Campa Cola were not innocent. The 

illegal construction is therefore an apt case 

for demolition, this to hold out a lesson 

against the menacing incidence of irreg-
ular construction in Mumbai and else-
where. Moreover, such a judgment would 

reassure people about the rule of law – if 

slums can be demo lished, devastating the 

lives of poor people, so too can the abodes 

of the rich at the Campa Cola society.

Massive Falsehood

When sections of the media and/or the 

middle classes cry hoarse against politics 

and politicians, they basically make 

known their resentment towards the 

masses of poor people, who are assumed 

to be the main prop of the politicians. Self-
assuredly, the commercial media blurted 

that the demolition order would never 

have been confi rmed if the Campa Cola 

compound had been a slum; all politicians 

would have rushed to regularise it. What a 

degree of falsehood! It is the slums which 

are demolished; the properties of the rich, 

like the Adarsh society or the Campa Cola 

society, based on blatant irregularities, are 

invariably protected by the politicians. In 

2004 alone, in the largest demolition drive 

in Mumbai, as many as 70,000 shanties 

were razed to the ground and about 

3,00,000 families evicted to make way for 

Mumbai's Shanghai Dream. Every demoli-
tion leaves behind scores of human trage-
dies but the media and the middle classes, 

by and large, seem uncon cerned. Tens of 

thousands of people have lost their meagre 

belongings; children have literally died of 

cold, hunger and disease; but the elite of 

this ruthless city did not even bother to 

know what had happened to them. 

Economic & Political Weekly EPW december 7, 2013 vol xlviii no 49 11

Politicians in their desperation surely 

woo slum-dwellers but the latter are no 

more their vote bank. Experience has 

taught them enough about the hollow-
ness of the political system, which invar-
iably manifests itself during the times of 

their struggles. They have not allowed 

politicians to come in. Whom they vote for 

in elections is purely an expedient decision 

taken at the spur of the moment as a 

necessary evil. It is not the poor but the 

burgeoning middle classes, highly asser-
tive but with their characteristic superfi -

ciality, that have become the mainstay of 

politicians in the neo-liberal era. Their 

infl uence on policymaking far outweighs 

the infl uence of any other class. Another 

falsehood denigrating the poor as a par-
asitical class is related to the insinuation 

that they do not pay taxes. The fact is that 

the total tax to income ratio of the poor 

is far higher than that of the rich. The 

simple truth is that the poor cannot avoid 

taxes whereas rich have many ways to 

subvert them. When the government gives 

some pittance to the poor, this is projected 

by the media as illegitimate patronage by 

the politicians. But when the rich defraud 

the public exchequer, leading banks to 

write-off Rs one trillion over the last 13 

years, not even a whisper is heard. 

Legality versus Justice

Another strange argument made is that 

while legality warranted demolition of 

the illegal construction at the Campa Cola 

compound, justice demanded its regu-
larisation. Will media say the same thing 

for the poor in whose case both legality 

and justice are sacrifi ced with impunity? 

Take, for instance, the case of the residents 

of Golibar colony in Khar East, the second 

biggest slum in Mumbai, who have been 

struggling against the illegal demolition of 

their houses under the controversial Slum 

Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) scheme. 

In 2003, the residents of Ganesh Krupa 

Society in Golibar colony roped in Madhu 

Constructions to rehabilitate them under 

the SRA scheme. In 2008, Madhu Construc-
tions transferred the development rights 

to Shivalik Ventures for redeveloping the 

society, without informing the affected 

community. When Shivalik Ventures 

ser ved a notice in 2010 for evictions, the 

residents approached the high court 

s aying that they had not appointed Shiv-
alik Ventures and that the 70% consent 

submitted by the company was actually 

forged. Notwithstanding, the company 

demolished 12,750 houses and provided 

transit camp accommodations to only 

1,250 affected people. The residents have 

actively agitated over the issue, under-
taking indefi nite fasts under the leader-
ship of Medha Patkar in June 2011 and 

again in January 2013, but to no avail. 

The SRA scheme to rehabilitate Mumbai's 

slum-dwellers has been a golden goose for 

the builder-politician combine. The irregu-
larities in its operation have been com-
mented upon even by the Comptroller and 

Auditor General (CAG) of India. During the 

agitation of the Golibar residents, the Ghar 

Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan had insti-
tuted a Citizens' Commission comprising 

prominent personalities, headed by justice 

Suresh, to enquire into the six SRA projects: 

Shiv Koliwada, Ramnagar (Ghatkopar), 

Ambe dkar Nagar (Mulund), Indira Nagar

(Jogeshwari), Chandivili (Mahendra and 

Sommaiyya quarries) and Golibar (Khar). 

The commission brought out horrifi c sto-
ries of oppression, fraud, intimidation, etc, 

by the builders in collusion with the police 

and politicians. Going beyond the CAG 

report, it pointed out that instead of eight 

lakh houses, only 1.5 lakh houses were con-
structed under the SRA scheme from 1996 

to 2011, and concluded that the SRA 

scheme was a failure. It recommended that 

the entire scheme be thoroughly reviewed. 

The government committee however did 

not fi nd anything amiss. Needless to say, 

the indefi nite fasts by Medha Patkar and 

many residents over several days did not

make news for our vigilant media nor did it 

constitute a cause worthy of the concern of 

our politicians. 

To sum up, now that the demolition has 

been stayed, many options to save the 

Campa Cola compound shall be tried by 

its protagonists. Unfortunately, in the 

face of the precedence it would create to 

regularise massive irregularities in the 

real estate space, none of the options might 

really work. One may appreciate the 

sensitivity of the Supreme Court in tak-
ing suo motu notice of the plight of the 

Campa Cola residents. However, one 

expects it should show the same sensitivity 

with regard to the cases of the poor too.

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