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Thrashed pregnant woman: Blows lid off MHADA lottery scam

Filling up forms in the names of a number of poor, illiterate people for the 2010 MHADA lottery was estate agency proprietor Baban Ghadge’s first mistake. Getting into a scuffle with a pregnant former employee over business rivalry and arousing her maternal instincts was his second. The result of it all was the unearthing of what looks like a huge scam to corner as many low-cost MHADA flats as possible and make a tidy profit running into at least a few crores. Five-month-pregnant Mamta Sawant, a former employee of Ghadge’s Hari Om Estate, blew the lid off his firm’s shady activities and pointed to the scam involving proxy applicants for MHADA flats after he and his family allegedly kicked her in the stomach and roughed up her husband last month.

The alleged violence happened because Ghadge apparently could not stomach the idea of Sawant opening an estate business right across the road from his office. Now, a high-level vigilance committee of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) is investigating the allegations. The alleged scam is said to involve the submission of applications for the lottery by proxy candidates put up by the estate agency, which operates from Charkop Link Road in Malad.

 
Plot thickens: The office of Hari Om Estate owned by Baban Ghadge (left) who was allegedly involved in the scuffle with (Top) Mamta Sawant. Many of the names submitted to the MHADA vigilance committee have the same mobile numbers as those on this billboard of Hari Om Estate 

A list (copy with MiD DAY) submitted to the MHADA vigilance committee has the names of 539 villagers allegedly brought in from remote areas of the state to fill the lottery forms. A separate list shows that of these 539, 12 were allotted flats after getting lucky in the lottery, while eight are still on the pending list. For those who know how to read between the lines, it is worth noting that Hari Om Estate advertises itself as a resale and rental specialist for MHADA homes.

Over 200 of the names on the list of 539 have mobile numbers which are either the same as the mobile numbers displayed on the billboard of Hari Om Estates or which correspond to the numbers mentioned on company visiting cards against the names of its various employees (copy of visiting card with MiD DAY). Sawant claims she quit her job with Hari Om Estate when she came across the irregularities she alleges. “In March this year, I started my own estate business, in Rajiv Gandhi Commercial Complex, very close to my old office, and this did not go down well with Baban Ghadge, proprietor of Hari Om Estate, who tried very hard to sabotage my endeavour by dissuading people from renting out office space to us,” she said. “On April 19, he even barged in with some members of his family and physically assaulted my husband and me, though I am five months pregnant.”

An FIR (copy with MiD DAY) was lodged at the Charkop police station on the very day of the alleged assault. The three accused, Ghadge, his wife Vandana and brother Harish were charged under Sections 459, 323, 504 and 34 of the IPC, which pertain to grievous hurt caused whilst committing house trespass or house-breaking, voluntarily causing hurt, insulting with the intention of breach of peace, and acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention. The three Ghadges were arrested and subsequently let off on bail.

“After being kicked in the stomach by Baban and his family, I had to undergo emergency treatment as the life of my unborn baby was at stake,” Sawant said. “This is when I decided to collect all the evidence possible and hand it over to the MHADA vigilance department.” She added that she now fears for her life and had notified the police about her apprehensions. MHADA Chief Vigilance and Security Officer Shivaji Divekar confirmed the receipt of the complaint against Hari Om Estate and the proof attached with it. “It is totally illegal for anyone to submit hundreds of names which have a common contact number of the applicant, and strict action will be initiated against the offender. Furthermore, our team will also scrutinise the other irregularities like applications made under the names of villagers and forged caste certificates,” Divekar said.

Divekar added that his department would also initiate an inquiry to crosscheck if the 12 individuals allotted flats in 2010 whose names appear on the “Hari Om proxy candidates list” were actually the end users or whether the flat ownership had changed illegally. The verification will be done both on paper and physically. According to MHADA rules, a flat allotted by it cannot be sold for five years as the basic premise behind making available such homes is to cater to the needy sections of society without any residential property in the city. M Suryavanshi, who is investigating the case, stated that an individual’s private contact details are the only ones permitted on the MHADA lottery application forms. “If proven, these are serious charges, which can attract stringent action,” he said.

Baban Ghadge admitted there had been a scuffle with Sawant and said there were some financial deals which had gone wrong with Mamta, but denied kicking her in the stomach. “Our relation further soured when she quit her job and started her own business, in direct competition with me, and that too just across the road,” he said. “Mamta was like a family member, one who independently took care of my business, but now she is being misled by someone and has turned against me. Not knowing that she is pregnant, we did have a small scuffle, but she was definitely not kicked in the stomach by anyone.” On the allegations of bogus phone numbers on the list submitted to MHADA, Ghadge said it was done out of a desire to help poor people and not for monetary gains. “There were poor, illiterate people who were helped by us to fill their lottery forms. After that it was up to their luck whether they got their dream house or not,” he said.

How the alleged scam works
Step 1: Villagers from tribal areas are brought and bogus ration cards, PAN cards and caste certificates are procured for them
Step 2: The villagers are introduced, fraudulently, as relatives to open a bank account, from where the earnest money drafts are prepared from a single bank in Charkop and submitted to MHADA
Step 3: MHADA lottery application forms are filled, using the mobile number of the agent
Step 4: Signatures are obtained from lottery winners on blank papers so that the transfer of property can be arranged and flats resold in the market — in violation of MHADA rules — at a much higher, premium rate.

Estate agent and mhada lotteries: The 2011 story
In 2011, MHADA announced a lottery for ownership of 4,034 homes in various parts of the city. Subsequently, it was learnt that 425 applicants who had won flats in the lottery had similar addresses, similar cell phone numbers and the same savings bank account number. All the 425 applicants were asked to present themselves before a MHADA inquiry committee, but only 102 of them appeared before it, and the remaining alleged that their lottery forms had been filled by agents. Subsequently, over 350 FIRs were filed against errant estate agents and individuals. 

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