Cops, ministers protect stalls at Crawford Market

Shopkeepers in area close to Saturday's fire site pay Rs 60 lakh bribe to politicians and underworld every month to maintain stalls that pose a major fire hazard in no-hawking zone

Even as three shopping complexes in South Mumbai's Crawford Market were gutted in Saturday's fire, concerns were raised about Musafir khana, the cloth market that is situated closeby.

On Saturday, a major fire blazed through three shopping complexes in
South Mumbai's Crawford Market, including Manish market

Although declared as a no-hawking zone by the Supreme Court, Musafir khana abounds in illegal stalls, which, sources reveal, enjoy political and underworld protection.

Sunday MiD DAY is in possession of two letters written a year ago, and addressed to the then Commissioner of Police Sanjeev Dayal. They name politicians and senior police officials, who either own illegal stalls at Musafir khana or protect them.

A letter dated June 17, 2010 written by a senior inspector of MRA Marg stated that a minister, an MLA and a few other politicians who protect stalls at Musafir khana are keen to transfer him. Another dated December 13, 2010, further mentions the names of three Assistant Commissioners of Police officers who run illegal stalls in Musafir khana.

Interestingly, the letters also mention that in case of a fire in the area, fire tenders would not be able to access the lanes that are crowded with several such illegal stalls.

Senior inspectors Sanjeev Kokil and Padmakar Juikar of MRA Marg station have conducted six demolition drives in the area in the past two years. This hasn't prevented the stall owners from returning and setting up shop again.

According to sources in the police and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the stalls at Musafir khana are protected by 22 political leaders and underworld dons. A sum of Rs 60 lakh is collected from the stall owners every month as protection money, the sources added.

"A minister, two MLAs, a former MLA, and a former minister, many of whom belong to the Congress party, are protecting these stalls," said a BMC official, on condition of anonymity.

"An NGO owner, who is close to a former Assistant Commissioner of Police also extorts Rs 10 daily from the owners of these illegal stalls to offer protection to them," the source further alleged.

Stall owners told this reporter that they pay the hafta every month through two local ganglords, who own stalls in Mohta Market, Gulshan-E-Iran hotel lane and Sabu Siddique Road in Crawford.

When contacted, senior inspector Juikar told Sunday MiD DAY, "Give me a little more time. The illegal stalls in this market are on my mind. I will surely take action against them."

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