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MMRDA-agent-politico nexus: Touts use RTI to usurp Mumbai woman's property

The familiar housing scam keeps reinventing itself to rob citizens of their rights. This one pits an Andheri resident against an MMRDA-agent-politico nexus. If one allows his or her home or shop to be demolished so that,a road, a bridge or a flyover is constructed then in return they expect that the government would give them a home. That is what the government also does, but sadly the homes aren’t going to those who actually deserve to get it. 

When the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) undertakes major infrastructure projects like the Metro or road building work, it must clear the route of all installations. If a house or a shop falls in the way and needs to be razed, theowner is compensated with a comparable property elsewhere. In 2004, a year before laying the Sahar Cargo Road in Andheri, the MMRDA had to demolish a shop in Parsiwada. The property belonged to one Tony D’souza. Tony had passed away four years ago at age 60, and his daughter Emina D’souza was the legal heir to the property. 

The authority asked her to submit documents proving her ownership of the shop since before 1995, so it could offer her an alternate property. Emina handed in the paperwork and the shop was flattened in 2005. Eight years later, she still hasn’t got the 225 sq ft residential space she was promised in lieu of the shop.
This case, however, isn’t about the usually bureaucratic apathy. It gets murkier. It seems that the MMRDA had, in fact, issued a provisional allotment letter to the D’souzas in November 2010, duly signed by the metropolitan deputy collector. But Emina wasn’t aware the allotment had been made until we told her.

Faking it
Suspiciously enough, the photo on the letter is neither Emina’s nor Tony’s. Instead there’s the picture of a young man who appears to be in his early 30s. “It’s a bogus allotment letter. Such things are commonplace in this trade,” said a senior MMRDA officer in the land department, filling us in on what may have gone down.In this case, Tony had been dead and Emina had stopped following up with the MMRDA. She said that she had received a phone call about the house some time back but nothing came of it. It was only after we informed her that she came to know of the allotment made in her name.

“A while ago, some people had called us and taken some details, but they never turned up or did anything further. I haven’t got any allotment letter till now,” said Emina, who has now moved from Andheri (East) to Kandivli with her family.


Ghost house: Building number 9 in Poonam Nagar in MMRDA Colony, where the D’souzas were allegedly allotted a new flat

According to the allotment letter, the D’souza family had been given room no 12 in building no 9 of Poonam Nagar in MMRDAColony. When MiD DAY visited the building, we found a lock on the door of room 12. The watchman said, “No one’s ever stayed here since the time the building was constructed.”

This reporter went and met MMRDA deputy collector A N Kargutkar, who had signed the allotment letter. Asked if it was his signature on the letter with MMRDA letterhead, he chose to keep mum and asked us to approach his senior, Vishram Patil, head of the department of rehabilitation. Patil claimed that it was a bogus letter. “If someone files a complaint, I would look into the matter,” he said, adding that he had received such complaints before.

So if the houses are empty, what do the agents do with them? A senior officer claimed that agents work in tandem with local politicians and public officials to sell off these homes for a price cheaper than the market rate. Many of MMRDA’s properties meant for project-affected people have been sold at Rs 10-15 lakh, and now, Rs 22-25 lakh, the official said.

No proper survey
He said such things come to pass because the properties aren’t surveyed and audited properly. “This is a mere example. There are thousands of such cases where MMRDA homes have been misused. There hasn’t been a proper survey for the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Projects (MUIP), unlike the MUTP (transport) projects, where the World Bank has been involved. And because of these loopholes, the homes meant for eligible people are routinely misused.” 

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