Bizarre? BMC chief asks official to probe complaints against himself

Updated: Dec 11, 2018, 11:13 IST | Samiullah Khan | Mumbai

In a brazen move, BMC chief Ajoy Mehta's order to probe allegations of wrongdoing comes to the very K-West ward officer who was accused!

The K-West ward had put up this banner to name and shame four activists, branding them as extortionists and banning them from the ward office
The K-West ward had put up this banner to name and shame four activists, branding them as extortionists and banning them from the ward office

Looks like the BMC is resorting to one dirty trick after another in its war against the city's activists. In August, it outed whistleblowers to the very builders they had complained against. A month later, K-West (Andheri) officials put up banners labelling four activists as extortionists. Now, in yet another farce, the BMC has ordered the very K-West official against whom activists complained, to probe the issue.

An internal report submitted to former Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi stated that the banners had been put up at the behest of Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner (AMC) of K-West ward.

Malad activist Imran Shaikh had jumped to the defence of his fellow crusaders, and wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, as well as BMC chief Mehta, complaining against Gaikwad. An incredulous Shaikh told mid-day, "The banner put up by the AMC of K-West ward not only defamed the activists, but also disobeyed the Bombay High Court's 2017 ban on illegal hoardings. Now how can the BMC ask the very officer who is responsible for this to investigate the case?

BMC chief Ajoy Mehta
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta

Vicious clash
As far back as August, mid-day had reported how the clash between the BMC and social activists began ('RTI activists vs BMC row escalates', August 16). It started with the civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta asking officials to prepare a list of 'frequent RTI Act users' who were using the law to file complaints against builders. The city's RTI crusaders retaliated by submitting a list of 100-odd allegedly corrupt civic officials.

On August 21, a front-page report in this paper highlighted how the RTI whistleblowers found themselves on the receiving end of threats after the BMC allegedly outed them to the influential developers they had complained against.

Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner of K-West ward, has been asked to investigate complaints against himself
Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner of K-West ward, has been asked to investigate complaints against himself

Then, on September 22, officials from the K-West ward (Andheri) put up banners with pictures and names of four activists, calling them 'professional complainants'. Not only did the officials name and shame the RTI crusaders, but they also banned them from entering the ward office, alleging that the activists were extortionists who impeded official work with their complaints. Two days later, following public outcry, AMC Gaikwad, ordered that the hoardings be pulled down.

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Breaking the law
Shaikh, in his letter, said that the K-West ward had exposed the identity of whistleblowers, humiliated them and put their lives at risk. He also cited a 2017 order from the Bombay High Court banning unauthorised hoardings, on pain of police prosecution.

The chief secretary (urban development), working under the supervision of the CM, forwarded the complaint for registration of an FIR. Ironically, instead of taking action himself or asking the deputy municipal commissioner (DMC) of Zone IV to do so, he handed over the probe to none other than Gaikwad.

Shaikh said, "The municipal commissioner gave the order on November 22  to take necessary action in the case, but he delayed the matter by passing the case on to the DMC [Zone IV], who handed the case to the AMC, who is himself one of the accused."

He added, "There is no provision or circular of the BMC that bars entry of citizens in the ward office. The actions of the AMC show how his entire team are involved in illegal activities in their ward office. It is shocking that a public officer tried to restrict the entry of citizens in the ward office merely because they filed numerous applications."

Officialspeak
A civic official said, "The administration follows a hierarchy, and if action is to be taken against ward officials, the right authority is the ward officer or the DMC." Despite repeated attempts to contact AMC Prashant Gaikwad, he remained unavailable for comment.

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