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Chappals hurled over sweeping machine fiasco

All hell broke loose during the General Body Meeting of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) yesterday, as Navi Mumbai Mayor Sagar Naik was held hostage and manhandled by corporators of the opposition parties. Even the Deputy Mayor was hit with a sandal by a female corporator while trying to rescue his superior.

NMMC mayor, Sager Naik

The drama which went on for over two hours began when Naik was evasive regarding questions posed before him by members of opposition parties in the house, namely Congress and Shiv Sena, over the sweeping machine project. The opposition sought attention motion to discuss the sweeping machine project and alleged that large-scale corruption was going on in the project. They wanted to know why such exorbitant amounts were being paid to private contractors to keep the roads clean with these sweeping machines.

NMMC Mayor, Sager Naik
No way out: NMMC Mayor Sagar Naik being restrained from leaving the house by members of the Opposition parties

Naik refused to allow the motion saying the contract was given after thorough discussion with opposition parties and would not discuss the matter further.

MiD DAY had published an article (‘Two firms to be paid Rs 2,800/km to operate sweeping machines’ on October 3) highlighting the exorbitant amounts being given to private companies for cleaning the roads with sweeping machines.

NMMC deputy mayor Bharat Nakhate clearly seen ducking as a lady corporator raises her hand in a threatening manner
Hasty retreat: NMMC deputy mayor Bharat Nakhate clearly seen ducking as a lady corporator raises her hand in a threatening manner 

The Mayor’s stern refusal to discuss the matter further, despite several requests, irked members of the opposition parties, which then led to them boycotting the house at around 1.15 pm yesterday. All the corporators of the opposition parties sat in the corridor, which happens to be the only way out of the house and began raising slogans against Naik and NCP corporators, alleging their involvement in corruption in the sweeping machine project.

‘Hostage situation’
A break in the meeting was called at around 1.30 pm, but the protesting opposition party members only allowed the NCP corporators and Deputy Mayor Bharat Nakhate to leave the house. They refused to allow Naik, Municipal Commissioner Bhaskar Wankhede and other senior NMMC officials to leave the house until they gave a suitable reply to the questions posed.

A lady corporator hurls her footwear at Nakhate when he tries to escape their wrath
Parting shot: A lady corporator hurls her footwear at Nakhate when he tries to escape their wrath

When the opposition party members showed no intention of budging from their stance, Nakhate, a few NCP corporators and police personnel tried to free the Mayor. This led to corporators of the opposition parties manhandling Naik. In an attempt to get out of the house, the Mayor stumbled and even fell once, but managed to reach his cabin with the assistance of the police.

Chappal in hand
Meanwhile, Nakhate who was trying to ensure Naik made it to safety, got embroiled in a spat with women corporators of the opposition parties. The enraged women mobbed Nakhate and one of them even hit him with her sandal.

Congress and Shiv Sena members in the NMMC house block the only way out to protest alleged large-scale corruption in the project
Sitting in: Congress and Shiv Sena members in the NMMC house block the only way out to protest alleged large-scale corruption in the project

At around 3.30 pm Navi Mumbai police escorted the municipal commissioner and senior officials out of the house, but only after the municipal commissioner assured the opposition parties that their queries would be answered.

Money wasted?
Dasharath Bhagat, corporator and president of Navi Mumbai district Congress said to the media during the drama, “We have found through our investigations that the administration has wasted taxpayers’ money by awarding the sweeping project to private companies and paying them exorbitantly.

MiD DAY report on October 3
MiD DAY report on October 3

There was no need of the sweeping machine project for a whopping Rs 74 crore when the same work could have been done for under Rs 3 crore if NMMC carried out sweeping manually. So there is major corruption in which the Mayor and NCP corporators are involved along with the administration. We will not let anyone go from the house till they give an explanation.” Bhagat added that he would file a complaint with the chief minister and demand an inquiry into the matter.

Dirty politics?
When asked why he refused to discuss or answer the question posed to him by the opposition, Naik claimed that there was no need for a discussion since everything was discussed earlier with the opposition parties in the house.

“We have already discussed the issue several times with the opposition parties before awarding the contract to private companies. If the opposition parties had any doubt when the project was being discussed, they should have raised the issue then only. Now these parties are raising the issue just to play dirty politics,” Naik said.

Bhagat claimed that a case of assault has been registered against Nakhate in CBD Belapur police station for manhandling the women corporators during the melee. However, when contacted, Shekhar Tore, senior police inspector of CBD police station, said, “We have received a complaint, but no case has been registered so far. A case will be registered only after consultation with our senior officials.” When efforts were made to speak to Municipal Commissioner Bhaskar Wankhede, he was at a meeting and unavailable for comment.  

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