Hundreds of residents from across Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai thronged Mantralaya, the state government headquarters, Tuesday morning to submit forms that they believed would help them get a house in Powai for a meagre Rs 54,000 under a low-cost housing scheme floated by CM Prithviraj Chavan.
The desk section of the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) received the forms throughout the day, and in fact, set up two more temporary desks to facilitate the process, just in case it led to a mini riot.
Late evening though, the CMO issued a clarification that no such scheme had been sanctioned by the government and the so-called forms were bogus. It also promised to initiate an inquiry into the matter.
The forms, it came to light later, were distributed by the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, a political party presided by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. “We distributed forms to the people who have been deprived of the low-cost housing projects on a land in Powai which was handed over to private developers,” he said.
Mashina Sheikh, a resident of Ashok Nagar in Vashi, said, “ I received the form from my local leaders. They asked me to submit it in CMO.”
“Why should I doubt the authenticity of the form or the scheme when my application is being accepted by the CMO at Mantralaya,” said Sunil Tiwari, who had came from Sewri to join the queue.
A senior desk officer in CMO said, “The process of form submission has been on for the last two days. Nobody in the government has raised any objection nor directed us against accepting the forms.”
There were three different forms, one of which bore the Congress motto “Congress ka haath Aam Aadmi ke saath.” The form said, “I belong to the economically weaker section. Since the government is allocating houses to the EWS under its 1987 Powai Development Scheme, I wish to apply for the same 3,000 homes measuring 400 sq ft being developed by Hirandandani Builders under this scheme.”
The distribution of forms, meant for allotment of houses in the plush Hiranandani complex, was set in motion by labour activist Milind Ranade. “We have distributed anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 such forms. The poor need to know there are apartments in the Hiranandani complex which should have been rightfully theirs,” said Ranade, who had earlier this week taken a few thousand labourers and slum residents to the tony suburban enclave.
In 1986, about 240 acres of surplus land was acquired by the state government under the Urban Land Ceiling Act (ULCA) and leased to the developer at a cost of 40 paise per acre. This was done under the ULC exemption clause as per which the developer had to construct modest sized homes of 400 sq ft and 800 sq ft. The ULCA, repealed in 2007, was meant to prevent concentration of land and housing in the hands of a few.
Hiranandani amalgamated the flats to create sprawling 1,200 to 5,000 sq ft residences for high-end clients in over 70 residential and commercial towers. “Fifteen per cent of the total apartments were to be handed back to the state government for the sake of public housing at the rate of Rs 135 per sq ft. The cost of each 400 sq ft apartment thus works out to Rs 54,000, which is what is printed on the forms,” Ranade claimed.
The Bombay High court is presently hearing a slew of petitions against the developer on the issue. The complex has been in the eye of a storm ever since Medha Patkar-led National Alliance for People Movement flayed the state government for its mass slum demolition drives while turning a blind eye towards encroachments made by the powerful.