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Why did Congress get MMRDA discount?

Remember the farce related to the venue rent that preceded anti-graft campaigner Anna Hazare’s protest fast on MMRDA ground in the city last December? The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) showed self-righteous hesitation in giving concession to Hazare’s NGO India Against Corruption (IAC), saying that it was not a registered trust. Now, it comes to light that the MMRDA battled no similar compunctions in handing out discounts to the city Congress committee, also an unregistered body.

Trust issues: Congress President Sonia Gandhi at the MRCC rally held on MMRDA ground on April 26, 2009, prior to the general elections. The ground can be given out at a concession only to registered trusts, but MRCC isn’t one. File Pic

In an RTI reply to Mumbai-based businessman Viren Shah (copy with MiD DAY), the MMRDA admits that in 2009, the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC) was given concessions to hold political rallies on MMRDA ground twice. For the first rally, the ground was booked, at marked-down charges, for two days on April 25-26 for the Lok Sabha elections. It was booked again at a concessionary rate on October 9-10, for a rally prior to the Assembly elections. 

After much ado: The ground was leased for Anna Hazare’s fast-cum-agitation at Rs 7 lakh only after Arvind Kejriwal’s NGO was roped in to avail of the concession. (Below) Copy of the RTI reply, in which MMRDA admits that in 2009, the Mumbai Regional Congress was given concessions twice to hold political rallies on MMRDA ground 

The IAC wanted to hire the MMRDA ground in BKC for Hazare’s fast-cum-agitation against a weak Lokpal bill for three days on December 27-29, 2011. The ground was finally leased at around Rs 7 lakh, against the commercial rate of Rs 11 lakh, after Arvind Kejriwal’s NGO was roped in to avail of the concession. The protest had lasted only two days.

Renter beware
According to a senior officer from the Land Management Cell of the MMRDA, the authority is allowed to give concessions only to a registered trust that wants to hold a non-commercial event for the benefit of the public at large. “We hadn’t given concession to the IAC because at that time it was not a registered trust. When they came back to us with a registered trust (activist Arvind Kejriwal’s NGO), we gave them appropriate concessions.”

However, when this paper asked Congress office bearers about the status of the MRCC as a registered trust, no definite answer was to be had. Amarjit Singh Manhas, MRCC treasurer, said, “The All India Congress Committee (AICC) is a registered political organisation with the Election Commission. All the state and regional committees are affiliated with the AICC.” 

Sachin Sawant, spokesperson for state Congress, gave a more patent reply. “The MRCC is not a registered trust.” The MMRDA ground is leased to anyone who wants to hold a rally or an exhibition at the ground at a pre-decided rate. The authority gives land on a lease at commercial as well as concessional rates; the latter can be had for functions of the state government, or for a non-profit purpose by a registered body. 

The list of beneficiaries of concession, procured through RTI, feature the names of MRCC, along with several social, religious and educational institutions. The list of those who rented the ground at commercial rates has event management companies and organisers of award functions. MMRDA Commissioner Rahul Asthana refused to comment without first referring to the relevant paperwork. Another senior officer said, “We will check our documents to verify under what criteria the permissions were given, and whether the MRCC is a registered trust or not.”

It’s bias: 
Oppn The preferential treatment has stirred Opposition leaders to ask for an investigation.  Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly Eknath Khadse said, “Expecting MMRDA to conduct an inquiry is futile. But I will still demand that there be an inquiry. The truth why the Congress was given a concession should be out in the public. And the money the government lost through the concession should be taken from the MRCC.” State BJP President Sudhir Mungantiwar said, “This is favouritism. Just because the Congress is the ruling party doesn’t mean it can use the government machinery to favour its own, and that too during elections. If the Congress is given a concession, other parties should also be shown such considerations.”

IAC shocked
Preeti Sharma Menon, spokesperson for IAC, Mumbai, who struggled to get the permissions related to organising Hazare’s agitation, finds the revelation appalling.  “I am shocked. When we asked for concessions, the authorities had categorically denied that rules could be bent. But this disclosure lays bare the nexus between the political parties and the authorities. Even at Azad Maidan, the authorities had refused to let us use the sports ground. But they threw it open for political rallies. It shows the government’s apathy towards citizens.” 

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