Mumbai: Built with MLA funds, BMC chowky got 'sold', nobody knows how

Civic body workers had been using this chowky in Ghatkopar since 1989, after police, for whom it was built, abandoned it; recently, locals realised that someone had taken over the property and started renovating it; electricity bill shows the owner as one Abdul Shakoor Mutwali

The tale of a chowky built in Ghatkopar is an accurate example of how public funds are wasted and how there is no sense of accountability among the authorities.

In 1988, Virendra Bakshi, who was the Congress MLA from Ghatkopar (West), had got the chowky built
In 1988, Virendra Bakshi, who was the Congress MLA from Ghatkopar (West), had got the chowky built

Built for the police, it was abandoned and later used by BMC workers for 22 years before they, too, stopped using it. It was only when extensive renovation work began on it last month that alert local residents unearthed that the chowky had been ‘sold’ to a private owner right under the nose of officials.

In 2012, residents realised there was something amiss when unknown persons, who didn’t seem like BMC employees, were seen entering and leaving at odd hours
In 2012, residents realised there was something amiss when unknown persons, who didn’t seem like BMC employees, were seen entering and leaving at odd hours

In 1988, Virendra Bakshi, who was then the Congress MLA from Ghatkopar (West), had got a police chowky built for the Surya Nagar police. The structure was built opposite Zainullah chawl, after locals demanded it for safety reasons. However, police abandoned it after using it for a few months, citing lack of manpower to be deputed at the chowky.

The electricity meter of the chowky, and the electricity bill, showing Abdul Shakoor Mutwali as its owner
The electricity meter of the chowky, and the electricity bill, showing Abdul Shakoor Mutwali as its owner

After remaining vacant for over a year, workers from the Solid Waste Management department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) began using it for miscellaneous purposes. Bakshi, who is now with the BJP, had utilised the MLA fund to erect the post. He said, “I had built the post on public demand when I was the MLA of the region.

But, as there was lack of police personnel, a new post was built in Amrut Nagar where the constables started sitting, and this one (opposite Zainullah chawl) was abandoned. Later, BMC personnel cleaned it up and started using it.” Bakshi said that after the BMC started using it, he didn’t keep track of the ownership.

Changed hands?
For 22 years, the chowky served as a storeroom and changing room for BMC employees. In 2011, it was renovated. During renovation, the length of the room was increased by 7 feet. Locals noticed the change and opposed this expansion. BMC eventually did away with three feet and, after refurbishment, the post remained unused.

In February 2012, locals suspected something amiss when it began getting used again. “We saw that BMC was no longer using the chowky and some unknown people were seen going in and out at odd hours. They didn’t look like BMC employees.

We wrote to the ward officer with 50 signatures, asking them to verify our suspicion,” said a local resident, on condition of anonymity. Thereafter, the post remained shut for a year. In May 2013, an electricity meter was installed and, for nearly two years, the chowky was opened every other day by the suspicious-looking people, allegedly to ward off residents’ suspicions.

Locals were again alerted this year, when heavy renovation work began. They obtained a copy of the electricity bill (mid-day has a copy), which stated that the owner was one Abdul Shakoor Mutwali. “We realised there was something fishy, and shot off letters in March to Ajitkumar Ambi, ward officer for N ward, Deputy Municipal Commissioner Suhas Karwande and civic chief Sitaram Kunte, requesting them to look into the matter,” said another resident.

Neither the police nor the BMC know who the actual owner of the chowky was, before it seemingly got sold to Mutwali. The electricity bill clearly mentions that there has been a delay in payment and the amount – Rs 650 is pending since two months.

This means the ‘owner’ had paid the bill two months ago. A retired BMC officer, on condition of anonymity, said, “No chowky, whether it belongs to BMC or the police, can be sold in any case. There is no provision for even giving it on lease. This is public property.”

Official speak
According to Shekhar Channe, suburban collector, the police should be the owner. “If it is built as a police chowky, they should be the owners. Once we get proof, we will take action,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone VII) Vinay Rathod said, “We will have to find out if the handover (of the ownership of the chowky) has happened. We will take further action accordingly.

Vasant Patil, senior police inspector, Ghatkopar police station, also said they would register a case if someone filed a complaint and added that nobody had done so yet.

Suhas Karwande, deputy municipal commissioner, confirmed that residents met him last month. “I had informed the ward officer and the concerned department to inquire into this issue. The inquiry is ongoing,” said Karwande.

The other side
When mid-day contacted Abdul Shakoor Mutwali on the number mentioned in the electricity bill, he claimed he had no idea about the matter and had received no intimation from the energy provider asking him to pay the bill.

“I only got to know about it when you told me. I don’t know how it is on my name. I have no relation to the chowky,” said Mutwali. Further attempts to contact Mutwali went in vain, as his number remained switched off.

Timeline
1988: MLA Virendra Bakshi gets chowky built for police. A few months later, they abandon it for lack of manpower.

1989: BMC workers begin using it as storeroom and changing room.

2011: 22 years later, chowky is renovated and residents object to some changes. BMC demolishes part of the alterated structure and facility is left unused.

February 2012: Residents notice strangers using chowky at odd hours.

May 2013: Electricity meter for chowky is installed and chowky is opened every other day.

March 2015: Extensive renovation work begins. Alert residents check electricity bill and find out the ‘owner’ of the chowky.

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