Mumbai: Ghost letter busts SRA scam in Worli

Aug 16, 2015, 06:55 IST | Varun Singh

RTI query reveals that the Slum Redevelopment Authority added nearly 100 names to slum dwellers list for Worli Naka project; an inquiry has been ordered in the matter

An RTI request sent in July this year by High Court Advocate Manoj O Singh has revealed what could possibly be another big scam in the already chequered history of the Slum Redevelopment Authority.

Advocate Manoj O Singh
Advocate Manoj O Singh

Singh, who represents Samala Narsaiyya Ramulu and Narsavva Konka, who live in a slum near Worli Naka, wanted to check with the SRA why certain names had been included in a massive redevelopment project when the list was revised in 2012.

The project near Worli Naka being redeveloped by Om Omega Shelters
The project near Worli Naka being redeveloped by Om Omega Shelters

The SRA’s response which said that in 2013, they had received a letter from the Brihanmumbai Electrical Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST), saying that many of those who had been included in the second list had electric supply to their homes and establishments dating before 1995 turned out to be based on a forged letter. Now, state housing minister Prakash Mehta has ordered an inquiry into the matter.

The mystery letter
This particular SRA project concerns three slum pockets now merged into one — Shiv Ganesh and Shiv Sainath Cooperative Housing Societies — near Worli Naka with 753 residents. Singh claims that the builder, Om Omega Shelters, falsely hiked the number of dwellers eligible under Development Control Rule 33 (10), in order to claim a larger building area.

As per rules, the more the number of slum dwellers a builder rehabilitates in a new construction for free, the greater the FSI he gets to build a new building on the same land, which he is allowed to sell in the open market. Singh estimates that, in this case, Om Omega Shelters has managed to get somewhere close to 10,000 square foot extra, by including names of nearly 100 dwellers in the revised list.

Showing Sunday mid-day the RTI responses he received, Singh states, that the SRA revised its original 2009 list, prepared by BMC (which included nearly 500 eligible slum dwellers from the above mentioned co-operative societies), based on a letter from the BEST, which said that the new names were eligible. One of these letters (a copy is with Sunday mid-day), is dated July 8, 2013, with the outward number of 1933 A.

However, the BEST responded to Singh's RTI query, saying that this letter with the said outward number was issued to one Machindra Ghate, but had nothing to do with an SRA scheme, after searching through records between June 2012 and July 2013. In this period, there were two other letters allegedly sent to the SRA (on December 7, 2012 and June 16, 2012) which also the BEST has denied sending.

The letters that SRA received, then, must have been forged, alleges Singh. Considering that the current market rate in Worli is Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 per sq ft, 10,000 sq ft will fetch a builder anywhere between Rs 25 to Rs 30 crore. Singh, who filed on official complaint in the matter in July, says, “The whole project is nearly 10,000 square meters in area.

The scam will also cost the government money. And it’s not just a case of one letter. There are many such letters that show that residents have been staying in the slum before 1995, although in reality, they got their electric connections only after 2000.” While in 2014, the eligibility of SRA schemes was pushed to residents of slums from 1995 to 2000, this particular scheme was initiated earlier.

Therefore, the need to prove residential status before 1995. Singh adds, "This shows that the society office bearers, officers in SRA and the builder were all hand-in-glove.”

Passing the blame
Sunday mid-day spoke to KC Sethi, the developer who had taken the redevelopment under the banner Om Omega Shelters. However, Sethi says, “I had taken up the project four years ago. I handed it over to Parini, a real estate firm. Speak to Parth Mehta, its CEO. I have nothing to do with the project.”

Yet, Mehta told us, “Sethi is still a partner in the project, and will be till the time of realisation of his profits to the tune of 34 per cent. The annexure II [the original list of eligible slum dwellers] was made even before we came into the picture. The whole process of eligibility of slum dwellers was conducted between the society and SRA authorities.

We had no role in ascertaining eligibility of slum dwellers.” The chairman of the housing society, places the blame squarely back on the builders. Lavu Patekar says, “Our societies went under redevelopment in 2012. There was an issue of eligible and ineligible slum dwellers.

The builder told us that he would take care of this and those who were not eligible, would then become eligible. He had merely asked us for all our documents, which we handed to him.” Calls to Prakash Mehta and SRA chief executive officer Assem Gupta remained unanswered. The BEST spokesperson says, “I will have to look at the documents as this is from the ward office and will carry out an in-depth inquiry. But this is possible only on Monday.”

K C Sethi
I had taken up the project four years ago, but handed it over to Parini. I've nothing to do with it

Parth Mehta
Sethi is still partner in the project, and will be till the time of realisation of profits to the tune of 34%

Earlier cases

>> In November 2011, it was reported that Ackruti Nirmal, builder of India’s first slum redevelopment project in MIDC (Andheri East), inserted names of relatives and office bearers to fluff up numbers to get extra FSI.

>> In February 2014, it was reported that Omkar Alta Monte, being developed by Omkar Realtors had acquired a plot of 46,993 sq metres for a project, which included the rehabilitation of 15,000 slums built on it. A part of the land was a Hindu cemetery measuring 5,987.60 square metres.

According to Appendix 4 of the DCR 33 (10), a developer who utilises cemetery land for redevelopment is supposed to return 25 per cent of the original plot area after the project. Therefore, for the above plot, Omkar Realtors had to return 1,496.90 square metres to the SRA.

However, the SRA’s calculations told Omkar they only had to give 498.99 square metres — this means the builder would give back only 8 per cent of the original cemetery plot, instead of the mandated 25 per cent, keeping a mammoth 92 per cent for himself.

>> An RTI query had revealed that Ackruti (now Hubtown) builders created five illegal storeys in a slum rehab building in Bandra without obtaining permission from SRA or coastal zone authorities. This was reported in November 2011.

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