They allegedly drilled 953 holes into the road leading up to their pandal last year -- completely destroying the road in question. But a year after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) slapped a fine of Rs 23.56 lakh on them for ‘defacing the road,’ -- the cash-rich Lalbaug Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, which has a whopping Rs 14.5 crore in fixed deposits alone, is yet to pay up the relatively paltry amount. Worse, the organisers have started digging up the road yet again this year to erect hundreds of bamboo poles for the ganeshotsav mandal, in violation of BMC orders.
The Lalbaugcha Raja is Mumbai’s most-visited pandal during the Ganapati festival, with an estimated 11 million people visiting it in 2012. In an article on December 29, 2012, MiD Day had written about a notice issued by the BMC F South Ward officials to the trustees of the Ganesh Mandal, for allegedly digging 953 holes on the main road and the adjoining foot path to erect a temporary bridge and passages for devotees to approach the venue for Ganpati darshan.
In the same notice, the BMC notified the organisers about the fine being imposed on the latter for erecting temporary iron structures and a bridge on 1,800 sq metres of road from Dinshaw Petit Lane in Lalbaug to GD Ambekar Marg towards Wadala. Last week, activist Mahesh Venurlekar, who had filed an RTI with the BMC in this regard, was shocked when he received a reply confirming that the Lalbaug Raja organisers were yet to pay the fine (SUNDAY MiD DAY has a copy of the reply).
The RTI response further reveals that no permission had been sought from the BMC to construct temporary bridge in the first place -- making the entire construction illegal. The bridge in question, named Navsacha Setu, was built on a portion of Vakharia BMC ground, which is a reserved plot (SMD has a copy of the BMC letter).
100 new holes and counting
And if defaulting on a fine wasn’t bad enough, the organisers have actually started digging fresh holes on the same roads yet again. When SMD visited the site, not only was work on in full swing on the reserved plot, over 100 bamboo poles had already been erected in Chivda lane by digging holes in the ground. “We respect the religious sentiments attached to Lalbaugcha Raja. So it is twice as disheartening to find out that the trustees do not abide by the law and dig holes big enough for a person to fall and injure himself. The fine is a small sum for them considering the amount they get from devotees each year. The fact that they are repeating the same irregularities this year, makes it a mockery of the system,” said Venurlekar.
BMC talks tough
When contacted Assistant Commissioner of F South ward Yashwant Kurade confirmed that his department will initiate legal action against the Ganapati mandal soon. “We had issued a penalty notice last year, but so far the trust has not paid the fine,” he said. Kurade added that BMC was now looking at legal options to recover the dues. “The 953 holes for the bamboo barricade, which had created many craters on the entire stretch, were finally filled by the BMC last year, using our own funds. This year too, we have not given them permission to use the ground on Dinshaw Petit Road. And under no circumstances do we give permission to anyone to dig holes on the roads,” he said.
A junior engineer of F South, too, confirmed that there was no question of granting permission to anyone to drill holes on roads. “In the event of anyone, irrespective of his social standing, committing such an offence, we impose penalties on the erring party,” he said. His colleague, assistant engineer Jagdish Barapatre, whose signature appears on the notice issued to the organisers last year, too confirmed that no permission had been given for the use of the plot, and to construct the temporary bridge. “We will take action as per BMC guidelines for the violations, including the illegal digging of a public road,” he said.
We didn’t dig: Organisers
Sudhir Salvi, secretary of Lalbaugcha Raja Trust, had earlier said that there was a discrepancy in official figures of the BMC and their own record with regard to the number of holes. But when SMD contacted him yesterday, he claimed the trust had not dug any holes in the first place and so, there was no question of paying any fine. “We have notified the local ward on the matter and now have all necessary permissions in order for our festivities, except for structure on Vakharia Ground. For this, too, we are in touch with higher authorities in the civic body, as the local ward is not authorised to give permission for the same. There are no holes which we dug anyway,” he said. But this correspondent counted over a 100 holes, with several others being dug and bamboo poles being erected. Are the holes being dug up by magic then?