Mumbai: Subletting CR ground to Ganesh idol makers irks locals

The subletting of their playground to Ganpati idol makers has irked members of the Central Railway Mechanics Institute (CRMI) in Parel. According to a circular issued by Central Railway, the playground cannot be rented out for long durations (it has to be rented on a per-day basis) and cannot be sublet.

A sublet stall at the ground. The idol maker who sublet the ground, Vijay Khatu, said he has done so as it is difficult to pay the rent alone. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
A sublet stall at the ground. The idol maker who sublet the ground, Vijay Khatu, said he has done so as it is difficult to pay the rent alone. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Currently it has been rented out to Vijay Khatu, a well-known idol maker, for his idol-making workshop for months and he has sublet it to several other idol makers, who pay rent to him. Institute members and local residents say that this land is meant for sporting activities and have also raised objections to renting it out for weddings.

The CR has several land holdings in different parts of the city. The CRMI land is spread over a few acres, housing their office, a sports complex — with a badminton court, boxing ring and a table tennis court, a math (religious structure) and about 1.5-acre land meant for other sports.

But the space is hardly made available for sports practice since it is given to idol-makers during festive season and to wedding parties on occasion. The institute is allowed to rent this land to private individuals for functions on a per-day basis.

Thus, weddings are held in the premises, with the processions coming right upto the gates of the institute. This causes inconvenience to residents of the area. “My mother is 85 and faces a lot of trouble when a wedding procession is nearby.

Simply because bands are not allowed to play inside CRMI premises, they go on playing outside on the road for hours. Why should we suffer?” said Harakchand Shah who stays across the road. A few CRMI members spoke about the issue but did not want to be quoted fearing a backlash.

A member said, “Why does the institute need to rent out the premises at all? Don’t the Railways have enough money already? Why allow weddings to happen here? The wedding caterers and decorators keep their material here all year round. Even after the festive season is over, the idol makers don’t clear up the place. The ground has become rough because of Plaster of Paris.”

The land is traditionally given to Ganpati/Navratri idol makers for setting up their workshops from May onwards. “According to a 2006 circular issued by the Railways, such an agreement can be done between the Railways and the private party subject to conditions, like use of institute premises for private functions should generally be restricted for one day only, allottee shall be held personally responsible for any damages caused to the property, charging caution money (deposit) for use of the premises which can be returned when the premises are handed back over, etc,” Shah said.

Besides, the circular produced by Shah clearly says that ‘no third party or contractor shall be authorised to take possession of the premises for further allotment.’ But when Shah filed an RTI query in the matter, he found out that the place had been rented out to renowned idol maker Vijay Khatu for a period of four months in 2015 ending Dusshera.

The total rent for this period is Rs 1.95 lakh. There is an agreement between Railways and Khatu, but no such agreement between him and other idol makers. “Subletting the place to other idol makers is clearly not allowed,” Shah said.

Renting for years
When asked about this, Khatu, who has been subletting the place for more than a decade, admitted to it. He has sublet it to five others. He said, “Yes, it is true that I have rented this space to idol makers because paying its rent alone is not easy.

Besides, I am giving a platform to other idol makers, not only this year, but also for the past several years. If you want to talk about the rules, the wedding parties are also illegal. They should be stopped first.” Khatu said that all the idol makers pay the electricity bill separately but he hasn’t signed an agreement with them since ‘it is all based on trust.’

mid-day spoke to two idol-makers in the workshop who said that they have rented the place out from Khatu for lakhs. Vaibhav Mane of Kalasagar Arts and Rahul Ghone of Rahul Arts, both said that they paid upto R1.5 lakh to Khatu for the gala (stall).

This also goes against the circular’s clause that ‘in case of outsiders, permission to use the institute premises shall be given directly to the individual for private purposes only and not for any commercial interest gains.’ mid-day contacted CRMI officials Hedau and Srinivas who refused to comment on the matter.

Railway speak
Chief Workshop Manager and Institute patron N K Nandanwar said, “It is true that subletting is not allowed. But we did not get any complaints all these years and things went on. But now that we have heard of this, I will discuss it with the concerned officials and then decide on the course of action.”

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