'Civic chiefs won't be spared for lax view on encroachments'

It is probably for the first time that a video-conference meeting on the issue of encroachments and illegal constructions in municipal areas lasted for an intensive four hours.

Thane Municipal Commissioner  R A Rajeev
Thane Municipal Commissioner R A Rajeev

In the aftermath of the building collapse in Thane’s Mumbra region which claimed 72 lives, chief secretary J K Banthia hauled up 26 municipal commissioners for dereliction of duty for unchecked illegal construction activities in their areas. “What is preventing you from conducting demolition drive against multi-storey buildings constructed in violation of norms,” he asked, a commissioner who participated in the meeting told this newspaper.

Coming down heavily on his colleagues, Banthia asked how many illegal constructions have been served with notices of penal action or demolition. He told them that the Chief Minister has sent a clear message that no commissioner will be spared for laxity in the matter.

Thane Municipal Commissioner R A Rajeev is in the eye of a storm after the Mumbra structure fell down like a pack of cards — a sandwich collapse, experts have called it. He is believed to have conveyed at the meeting that his hands were tied since his staffers were not with him.

“What can a commissioner do when his deputy commissioners engage in such activities?” he asked, explaining his position that most working under him were either locals with personal interests or were deputed by the government and mostly unwanted by the respective government departments. Thane deputy civic commissioner Deepak Chavan was suspended, and later arrested, following the collapse of the seven-storey illegal structure.

“In civic bodies, it’s only the commissioner who is an outsider whereas most of the staffers have been there for years. Most of them have developed good relations with local corporators and builders,” a commissioner told MiD DAY after the meeting. “Hardly any order issued by the state government is followed in letter and spirit,” he said, adding that an order issued during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule that says the civic ward officer and senior police inspector of the local police station will be suspended immediately if found that they have failed to check encroachments or illegal constructions.

“But a commissioner cannot do anything other than mark a specific complaint to his deputy for further probe. The deputy commissioner then forwards it to an assistant commissioner and it then proceeds to the ward officer or an engineer from the area concerned. It is difficult to track down a complaint,” said the source.

Until December 5 last year, the municipal commissioner used to be without any powers to initiate action or suspend officials under him for dereliction of duty, not even a peon. Then, an amendment to the Municipal Act empowered the commissioner to suspend staffers or order probe against municipal officers up to the rank of assistant commissioner, the commissioner said.

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