Does the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have different sets of rules for citizens, depending on their social and political status? Or do the chief minister and his deputy need water more than their fellow citizens?
Fed up of waiting for residential societies, commercial property owners and government departments to pay up their water tax dues which had climbed to a combined Rs 900 crore, the BMC has started disconnecting water connections to homes and offices across Mumbai. So far the BMC has disconnected water supply lines of over 750 buildings for non-payment of dues.
But two families living in Varsha and Devagiri, bungalows in the city’s plush Malabar Hill area, seem to be above the law. Despite unpaid water tax bills that run into several thousand rupees (over Rs 1.3 lakh in one case), no one has dared to disconnect their water supply. The reason? While Varsha is the official residence of Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Devagiri’s current occupant answers to the name of Ajit Pawar, the deputy CM.
According to the tax defaulters list available with the BMC, while the CM owes BMC Rs 1, 31,823, the deputy CM owes Rs 44,567. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) corporators have naturally been quick to jump at this opportunity to point out that the CM and his deputy are not practicing what they preach.
“If the BMC can disconnect the water supply of the common man for not paying water taxes on time, then why is there this leniency towards the CM and deputy CM? Are they exempt from paying taxes?” asked MNS corporator Dilip Lande. Pointing out that the Chavan and Pawar had defaulted on nearly Rs 1.75 lakh between them, Lande said, “They consume thesame BMC water that all of us do. Why is it then that while the common man is penalised, the BMC is dragging its feet here?”
When SUNDAY MiD DAY contacted Rajmohammad Sayed, assistant engineer of the D ward, he confirmed that the CM and DCM’s official bungalows owed the BMC Rs 1.75 lakh in total. “We are in touch with state government officials about the outstanding amount. We are hoping they will pay up soon. Government officials are co-operating with us,” he said. Sayed said the bill amounts showed that the owners of both the buildings had not paid water tax for several months.
But Kishor Patil, executive engineer of the state Public Works Department (PWD) who looks after the maintenance of all ministerial bungalows including Varsha and Devagiri countered the charge saying, “We clear all bills every month or at least once in two months. These bills must have been for the last two or three months. We will clear them in the next few days.” He however, could not confirm if a water bill of Rs 1.31 lakh for three months meant the CM’s bungalow ran up a water tax bill of over Rs 40,000 every month!
Meanwhile, there is no such respite for ordinary citizens. Over the last 34 days, the BMC has stopped water supply to over 750 residential and commercial premises across the city. Of these, 269 connections are from M east and M west wards (Chembur, Govandi, Mankhurd), 50 from L ward (Kurla), 49 H ward (from Bandra East to Santacruz East and a further 48 are from T ward (Mulund).
“We have only stopped water supply to these houses and offices after sending them a notice and giving them a few days to pay up,” said an official from the water department. But as deputy hydraulic engineer of the BMC AS Tawadia, confirmed, the main reason the BMC has sprung into action to penalise defaulters, is because the corporation needs to meet financial targets before the financial year ends.
When specifically asked about why the bungalows of the CM and the deputy CM had been spared, Tawadia said, “We also take action against government agencies and their premises. It is not that we go soft on them.” Meanwhile the BMC has appealed to citizens once more to pay up all outstanding water tax dues by March 31 to avoid their water supply being disconnected.