Recent developments in a shocking construction scam have revealed that for all of CM Prithviraj Chavan’s efforts to wield a fist of iron with realtors, the politician-builder-underworld network continues to flourish and plunder land in the state.
A fortnight ago, cops made seven arrests in connection with an illegal construction racket, in which over 1,500 residential buildings were developed on land strictly earmarked for agricultural purposes, in collusion with village heads. The builders allegedly bribed the sarpanch and upsarpanch in 40 villages located in Dombivli, Thane to achieve this end. Investigations related to the shocking case have revealed that the project was financed by elements from the underworld with direct links to dons Chhota Rajan and Ravi Pujari. Abetting these dubious deals were two incumbent MLAs.
About a year ago, Kalyan resident Bharat Patil approached K P Raghuvanshi, the Commissioner of Police, Thane, providing him alarming information about many illegal constructions made on agricultural land in Dombivli. Raghuvanshi forwarded the matter to the Crime Branch of Ulhasnagar for further investigations. Senior Inspector Machhindra Chavhan then started investigations under the aegis of ACP Bhagwan Yashod, and the investigations yielded information that shocked even these hardened cops – documents had been forged to show that the land encroached upon was non-agricultural (NA). The 1,500 buildings – all on agricultural plots – are littered across 40 villages in Dombivli, some of which are Nandivli, Davdi, Bhopar, Govali and Azade.
“We have received information about the involvement of elements from the underworld in the project. The matter is under investigation,” confirmed SI Chavhan. These criminals allegedly work for Rajan and Pujari. What has caused greater constrenation is the alleged abetment and investment of two current MLAs, in the nefarious dealings.
According to police sources, the builders and developers involved in the scam approached land owners in 27 villages located in Dombivli and 13 in Kalyan, with an offer they would find hard to refuse. The villagers were promised that they would be allowed to enjoy profits from 40 per cent of the flats sold, if they made their agricultural plots available for development. The builders, of course, retain the lion’s share of profit of 60 per cent of the flats sold.
According to the charges, the builders also bribed the gram sarpanch and upsarpanch at all the villages they bought out, filling their coffers with large amounts of money. The money trail has been traced back to the financiers from the underworld. Two builders have admitted that their shady dealings were financed by conracts in the underworld.
Cops have registered 11 FIRs at the Manpada police station in Dombivli against 33 individuals under sections sections 420, 467, 468, 471, 472, 473, 474, and 34 of the IPC. Most of these are developers. Seven of the 33 have been arrested on charges of forgery – Mrityunjay Munni Singh (48), Vishal Mrityunjay Singh (22), Sunil Baban Gawade (45), Sunil Gopal Bodare (35), Styawan Ganpat Kadam (59), Ajay Shivram Kolte (42) and Dheeraj Mhatre. Two of the accused – Amit Kumar Singh and Samir Virani – are absconding. Two other builders, who are absconding, are related to MLAs.
Cops have also revealed that an NCP leader from Thane, and a Navi Mumbai based state minister are now exerting pressure on them to slow down on the case and go easy on the abettors from the political circles. “Prima-facie, it appears that these MLAs have invested in some of these projects,” revealed an officer involved in the investigation, on condition of anonymity. He admitted to having received injunctions from certain political quarters to go slow on the investigations.
Sleight of hand
What has also caused great shock is the culpability of government officials at various levels of the bureaucracy. In course of their investigations, cops reportedly went from office to office, trying to verify the authenticity of the documents obtained by the builders from the government offices – district collectors, tehsildars, registration officers, members of the gram panchayat as well as officers of the Kalyan – Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) – all of whom refused to cooperate with the cops and provide the necessary paperwork or information. In fact, an RTI query submitted by the cops with the district collector’s office came with the response – four months later – that no NA certificates had been issued to anyone in the area in the past three years.
Sandeep Bharat Mhatre (Siddhi Vinayak Corporation), Ravindra K Mhatre (Saiees Construction), Santosh Dubey and Nitendra Dubey (Goodwill Construction), Amit Kumar Singh (Vinayak Construction) and Vishal Singh and Shivraj Singh (Shiv Kala Construction), have been booked, along with the architects of the buildings. The villagers who sold the land, and other government officers who helped with the forgery are also being probed.