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Vasai land mafia: MSHRC summons six Mumbai, Thane officials

Updated on: 22 July,2022 07:39 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shirish Vaktania , Diwakar Sharma |

Shocked by this paper’s detailed exposé of the chawl mafia, state human rights commission demands explanation from municipal commissioners, collectors and forest dept heads from Mumbai and Thane

Vasai land mafia: MSHRC summons six Mumbai, Thane officials

(From left) Iqbal Singh Chahal, BMC Commissioner; Nidhi Chaudhary, Mumbai Suburban Collector; G Mallikarjun, conservator of forests and director, SGNP; Vipin Sharma, Thane civic chief; Rajesh Narvekar, Thane Collector and Anil Kumar Pawar, Vasai-Virar civic chief. The summons were not marked to the Palghar collector and VVCMC chief, but will be directed to them

Shaken by mid-day’s exposé on the land mafia operating with impunity in Vasai despite a recent mudslide killing a man and his daughter, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission has asked six municipal commissioners, collectors and forest department heads from Mumbai and Thane to explain the brazen crime. Anticipating a crackdown, more than 70 developers and real estate agents from Vasai have shut their shops and removed their names and display banners.

In its front-page report of July 19, this newspaper showed how the chawl-builder mafias were back in business barely a week after the Vasai landslide. mid-day’s Diwakar Sharma, Shirish Vaktania and Anurag Kamble conducted an in-depth investigation at Vasai, Mumbai and Thane to expose agents and developers involved in the construction and sale of illegal houses on hilltops that pose huge risks to the occupants.

Also read: Mumbai: A week after Vasai landslide, slum mafia back in business

Offices of developers involved in the alleged illegal business in Vasai
Offices of developers involved in the alleged illegal business in Vasai

Palghar Collector Maanikrao Gursal said, “I have not seen the notice as of now. We keep getting such notices on and off from the state human rights commission.” When asked if his office would respond to the summons, Gursal said, “It will be purely confidential, not meant to be disclosed to media…. Please stop media trial….” Gursal was evasive when asked if his office would try to recover the revenue loss to the state treasury as the land mafias have been brazenly destructing hills and building chawls there. 

However, regarding illegal structures, Gursal said, “It is the job of Vasai Virar City municipal corporation to demolish the illegal structures. They [VVCMC] have conducted anti-encroachment drives in parts. The drive will be conducted in an aggressive mode in residential areas after the monsoon.” VVCMC chief Anil Kumar Pawar did not respond to mid-day’s calls and messages.

Former corporator Kiran Chendvankar points to the same offices that are now shut. Pics/Hanif Patel
Former corporator Kiran Chendvankar points to the same offices that are now shut. Pics/Hanif Patel

Stung by the sting operation, more than 70 illegal builders, whose offices had mushroomed near Vasai station to trap potential home buyers, have shut down their business overnight. They were selling cheap dwelling units built on government land at Wagralpada area at Vasai East, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected forest, and Kandivli. They would offer homes for as low as Rs 50,000, with most units priced between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 6 lakh. The agents and developers had also printed rate cards of the property as per the land size. Quoting one of those involved in the illegalities, a local source said, “The landslide did not impact our business, but mid-day stung us badly.”

‘Nobody took action earlier’

Former Shiv Sena corporator Kiran Chendvankar thanked this newspaper. “I had been writing to the authorities to take action against the illegal structures and unscrupulous builders who are thriving in the area. But none of them took action,” she said. “Thank you, mid-day for your cover-page story.” Chendvankar said she had been writing letters since 2017. 

Suo moto action

The state rights panel has asked the top officials to conduct probes and submit reports before August 4. Justice K K Tated, the chairman of the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission, has issued the summons.  “Matter to appear on board before Division Bench of myself and Member Shri M A Sayeed on 4th August,” reads the summons signed by Justice Tated.

Sundarm Builder in Vasai
Sundarm Builder in Vasai

The summons also reads, “It was very shocking that news reporters can find out the unauthorised construction going on in Vasai, Mumbai and Thane area. Reporters also published photos of the agents and spots. Midday also published interviews with the hidden cameras. However, it is shocking that no action has been taken by the Municipal Corporation, Collector, Tahsildar and forest department yet against such illegal construction. Once the construction is completed then it will be difficult for them to demolish the unauthorised construction. According to the mid-day reports, it clearly shows that it is difficult for land mafia to do the unauthorised construction without any help from some influencer officer [sic].” The case is also being investigated by the Vasai Crime Branch and local civic officials.

Official Speak

Sanjay Gandhi National Park Director G Mallikarjun said, “We have not received this order yet but we are investigating this matter. We will also take necessary action against those people who are running this racket and constructing houses on the forest land and selling it to the people. We are conducting an inquiry into this matter.” Thane Municipal Commissioner Vipin Sharma did not respond to calls and messages.

No trace of the developer’s office at the same locationNo trace of the developer’s office at the same location

Thane Collector Rajesh Narvekar said, “We received the summons via mail yesterday and we informed the forest department to take such necessary action against the illegal encroaches and agents. This land comes under the forest land and we don’t have any rights to take action but we have the right to intimate the necessary department regarding the complaints which we received from the Maharashtra State Human Right Commission.”

Mumbai Suburban Collector Nidhi Choudhary said, “We will inform the necessary department to take action against the illegal construction and agents who are selling and constructing houses in forest land. Only the forest department has the right to take action against the illegal encroachers. I don’t have the jurisdiction of it but I can inform the authorities concerned to take necessary action into this matter as per the law.” BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said, “I m not aware of this news. Contact the local ward officer or zonal deputy municipal commissioner to take this forward.” 

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