The Mumbai Regional Town Planning (MRTP) Cell, located in the disintegrating heritage structure of Yellowgate police station, is reputedly the police’s watchdog to rein in unauthorised constructions and encroachments in the city.
But a year into operations, this unit -- vital in the present times considering the series of lethal building collapses -- appears unequal to the mission it was tasked with.
With just eight policemen for staff and paltry resources, the unit is expected to monitor encroachments on an area of 437.71 sq km, but in the absence of the essential wherewithal, the cell is currently on the verge of shutting down. Though the staff was tight-lipped over the matter, sources conformed the unit’s fate was sealed, since it has already been transferring the FIRs it registered to pertinent police stations.
Former police commissioner Arup Patnaik had formed this cell on April 16, 2012 and instructed all 93 police stations across the city, as well as the BMC, to divert all cases relating to town planning to this specialised unit.
The idea behind instituting the unit was to break the nexus of illegal encroachers and local cops, which has been seen to be responsible for rampant corruption in construction projects. Prior to the formation of this cell, all MRTP cases were registered at local police stations.
The then police chief had deputed a senior inspector, two assistant sub-inspectors and five constables, with an assurance that the staff would be expanded over time. With Patnaik’s abrupt transfer over his alleged failure to control the violence at Azad Maidan last year during a demonstration by minority groups, the unit now seems to have lost its zing.
“Once the cases are transferred we review them from time to time,” said Anand Waghralkar, deputy municipal commissioner, encroachment removal department.
Since the time it was formed, the BMC has forwarded around 307 cases to this unit, of which a mere 26 have been turned into FIRs.
For the poor performance, the cell’s staffers blame shortage of manpower and resources. The cell, currently operating from a 300-sq ft space, has four or five computers and a few chairs. It can hardly even accommodate the visitors coming in to report grievances.
“Not just chairs and tables, even the personnel deployed here are too few. Moreover, the senior inspector of this unit is also in command of unit 2 of the economic offences wing,” said a staffer from the unit pleading anonymity.
When this reporter approached cell in-charge Vinay Gadgil, posing as a complainant in an MRTP case, he said, “All the complaints have been transferred to the respective police stations. I am helpless since there is not enough staff in this unit. Each day we get around 10-12 complaints of which a few are taken on record.”
However, once this reporter revealed his identity, Gadgil eschewed speaking on the staff shortage, saying only that the cell has begun transferring FIRs to local police stations.
Mumbai police spokesperson Satyanarayan Chaudhary said, “I don’t remember the data regarding this cell’s performance. I will have to check the records.”