'Adarsh housing controversy is just tip of the nexus iceberg'
By: Vinod Kumar Menon
That's what Medha Patkar, social activist and convener of the National Alliance of Peoples Movement, told Sunday Mid Day from Narmada in Gujarat, right after the CM submitted his resignation
This is just a tip of the iceberg of the nexus between the builder lobby, bureaucrats and politicians. Politicians and bureaucrats have been addressing the poor as 'illegal encroachers'. It will be interesting to see how the UPA government, that pretends it doesn't support the builder lobby, handles this expose involving the IAS/defence officers and top politicians. Aren't they illegal encroachers too?
The government, in 2006, had promised that Mandala in Mankhurd and Ambujwadi in Malad would be reserved for slum dwellers. However, it has not kept its promise. The government planned to rehabilitate people living on the banks of the Mithi River at Mankhurd after clearing the area.
Back then, we had requested slight modifications in the Development Plan (DP) for constructing 3,500 homes for Mandala slum dwellers, who were mostly construction workers. We even assured the BMC and MMRDA that the workers would construct homes for themselves by keeping the builders away, yet they did not hear our plea. The irony is that the proposed DP still remains unused.
I had informed former BMC commissioner Jairaj Phatak that our aim was to expose the illegalities involving the bureaucrat-politician-builder nexus, but he didn't hear us out. Today, it is clear that Phatak had violated the norms to clear the grounds for Adarsh Housing Society; his son (Kanishka Phatak) is one of the occupants.
Today 60 per cent of slum dwellers are living on 6 per cent of Mumbai's land. More and more slum land is being re-distributed to builders, fictitiously called 'developers', to benefit the elite.
The question is, who owns the land? If it is development that the Government of Maharashtra is committed to, the land should not and cannot be unjustly distributed. While the government has cheated the middle class and lower class under the banner of Nagari Niwara, slum dwellers are exposing the land grab.
The classic expose of a nexus between the builder lobby, ministers and bureaucrats is how Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had reduced the fine we had demanded from Hiranandani Constructions, from Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 200 crore, in 2009 for the Powai project. A petition is pending before the Bombay High Court.
Pune Collector Prabhakar Deshmukh was non co-operative when we wanted his support to expose the Lavasa land scam. Interestingly, his name too features in the list of Adarsh society's members!
Meet The whistleblowers
Simpreet Singh Role: Filed RTI to army The 30 year-old postgraduate in social work, has been working with Medha Patkar since 2003. He is involved in Ghar Bachao Andolan, a social movement for slum dwellers. According to Singh, the facts came to light after he filed an RTI seeking information from the Collector, Navy and Army related to allotment of land to Adarsh Society. Singh asked for the entire file pertaining to the society. "It took over four months to get access to the files, but once I had it, the file opened a Pandora's box. The powerful bureaucrats violated the norms at every point in the name of Kargil widows," he said.
Santosh Daundkar Role: Filed RTI to BEST, BMC The 37 year-old is an independent RTI activist. He claims that former Municipal Commissioner Jairaj Phatak had violated norms in the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) redevelopment project in favour of the builders. "I decided to gather evidence and expose Phatak," says Daundkar, who filed an RTI to the BEST/BMC building proposal and to the development planning section of the BMC. On the advice of his lawyer YP Singh, he became the petitioner in the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in March 2010 highlighting the violations.
YP Singh Role: Lawyer The information gathered through the RTI was sufficient to expose the scandal for this retired IPS officer. "Ashok Chavan was the revenue minister when we laid our hands on the information. It was only after we filed the PIL that the Army and Navy started raising objection on the construction of the building in a high risk defence area," said Singh.