Dharmendra Jore: Go deeper, bring mill land scam to public attention
The way to stop Kamala Mills-like tragedies from repeating is to bring to book the high and mighty milking it at the cost of the common man
Kamala Mills is one of many scams that needs a wider probe. File Pic
Gold mine. That's what mill land in Mumbai is called and treated like. Stakeholders who saw a money-making machine in this have found ways to milk it — influencing policy and forming a nexus with politicians and bureaucrats in the state government and civic body, to bring us a situation in which people get killed in tragic incidents, like the Kamala Mills compound fire. Many will perish in the future if the rot is not checked. What I have said is common knowledge. People in corridors of power, real estate industry and bureaucracy even know the main players in the game, which has converted Mumbai's Girangaon (mill land) precinct into a concrete jungle, one that was supposed to herald a dream of turning the city into yet another Shanghai.
What started some two decades ago is now a nightmare. Most culprits are here, alive and kicking, smiling into faces that are mourning loved ones. The culprits, who are now facing action because of the sheer power of public anger, have surrendered themselves to some power brokers who, they think, will bail them out.
The rot of illegalities
The redevelopment of mill land is a scam that should surpass bigger ones of the past. Founded or unfounded, allegations that this scam involved top people not only from Mumbai but also from Delhi and other major states, stay even now. The allegations need to be probed in an unbiased manner. We know how stakeholders made the then governments tweak policy. The same people flaunt their ability to influence the current dispensation as well.
Good that some leaders in the BJP have spoken about the blatant violation of FSI in mill land redevelopment. These leaders should stay put and ensure that the scam is probed, not merely the fire that killed many in Kamala Mills. There should be nothing notional about this particular scam, because papers shall speak (unless the files are burnt or relevant documents from files removed). Developers and mill owners benefitted most from a largesse that came during the Congress-NCP government. They constructed as much then in the name of IT parks. The usable space that these people have created so far does not comply with rules and is said to be way beyond permissible limit, thanks to illegal construction that went unchecked.
The owners have sold and leased property to private players in sectors that aren't remotely connected with the IT sector. So, the owners/developers are as guilty as the firms that are now running businesses from the properties they have purchased or leased. The BMC seems to have understood this, because in the FIR in Thursday's fire, it has named owner of Kamala Mills along with operators of restaurants.
Now, it is up to the police, BMC and government to work in tandem for nailing all, including the son of a retired IPS officer. It shouldn't be like a similar case in Thane, in which officers and owners were discharged in a prolonged court battle. Strange it is, but the government hasn't appealed against the ruling in that case in the high court.
It's all up to the CM now
Going by a mafia-like history of mill land redevelopment and the powerful players involved, CM Devendra Fadnavis should be under enormous pressure, if he decides to bring the scam to public attention. Kamala Mills is just one of many scams that warrants a wider probe. Calling for a fire audit is incidental. He should go beyond to prove malafide intentions that made Central Mumbai's mill land bleed for the benefit of a few. That's what people expect of him.
Considering the CM's now-famous style of functioning, he shouldn't shy away from fast-tracking investigations and trial in the Kamala Mills case. Not only this, he should think of constituting an independent probe, or ask the CBI to take over a large part of the investigation, as demanded by Congress' leader (of Opposition). If not so, then, he should at least heed to voices raised by his own party leaders. Some demands may be laced with alliance politics (read BJP-Sena), but Fadnavis shouldn't miss out on an opportunity to expose those who are cosying up in their ivory towers, still doing brisk business at the cost of others, politicking without an iota of morality, and clearing 'irregular' files without any fear of the law.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajoreSend your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org