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IN the last month of his tenure, former Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) chief Vishwas Patil cleared several redevelopment projects in Mumbai on lands that weren’t declared as “slums”. A government probe into the files cleared by Patil just before remitting office also point towards an “unusual haste” in the movement of files while noting various other irregularities.
Patil, an IAS officer of the 1996-batch, retired from service as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the SRA on June 30 this year. After a barrage of accusations levelled over files cleared by Patil in his final month in office, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had ordered a probe on these approvals. Patil’s successor Deepak Kapoor had formed a four-man inquiry committee, comprising town planners and SRA’s legal advisors to review each case. On September 22, the SRA, on the basis of the investigation, informed the government “irregularities” were noticed in 33 of the 137 proposals Patil cleared in June.
The details concerning the nature of the irregularities were, however, kept under wraps, with the government directing the SRA to conduct a “detailed” probe in the matter and fix accountability for the lapses.
The Indian Express has accessed the panel’s findings.
In violation of norms, the committee had found eight cases — seven in Mumbai (suburbs), and one in Central Mumbai — where the SRA, under Patil’s leadership, approved SRA schemes for areas which were not even notified as slums. Under provisions of the Maharashtra Slum Act, 1971, the SRA can only sanction slum redevelopment scheme for those areas which are censussed or declared as “slum” by the Competent Authority (Mumbai Collector’s office in this case) after following the due process.
But in these eight cases, the Letter of Intents (LOIs) for undertaking SRA schemes were approved without this basic condition being met. According to the probe panel, in most of these cases that “approvals were granted subject to undertaking from the concerned developers that they would follow the process of slum declaration before starting the construction work”. Interestingly, five out of the eight areas in question were found to be privately-owned lands. This included a couple of them where cooperative housing societies were found existing. In Bandra, one such approval was given when even the NOC from the plot owner was missing.
Since the government has incentivised redevelopment of Mumbai’s slums, the builders stood to gain additional construction rights under SRA schemes. Records also show 28 of the 33 proposals were cleared by Patil in the final three days of service. The probe panel also points a finger at the unusual “file movement” in most cases.
Consider this. On June 27, 2017, the SRA received a development proposal for a builder for an SRA scheme on a non-slum area in the M(East) civic ward. The very next day, the concerned sub-engineer (SE) in the SRA cleared the file. On the same day, the file also secured clearances from the Assistant Engineer, the Executive Engineer, the Deputy Chief Engineer, and finally Patil himself. Similarly, on June 23, the SRA received another proposal for approving the SRA layout for a non-censussed land in Borivali. Five days later, i.e. On June 28, the SE cleared the file. On June 29, the file obtained clearances from the remaining levels, including Patil’s office. A private developer admitted that SRA usually takes three to six months to clear a normal development proposal.
Among other irregularities, the panel found that seven slum developers were permitted higher building rights than permissible. Interestingly, in the R (South) ward, the panel has faulted the SRA for permitting a basement car park in an SRA scheme located in the influence zone of a Metro rail project.
It has pointed out that this was in violation to the government’s December, 2016, circular, which disallow development activities in such influence zones of Metro rail systems.
On June 27, Patil cleared a file permitting a developer in K (West) ward to undertake a scheme for building slum tenements on his plot, and availing transferable development rights as incentive. It has observed that this “was not in keeping with restrictions imposed by the Bombay HC on construction activity” owing to inadequate solid waste management facilities. In H (East) ward, an existing Mhada transit camp was allowed to be treated as a “slum redevelopment site”. The panel has also found undue town planning concessions had been extended in some cases.
An existing public pathway was irregularly included in a slum scheme. It has also flagged off cases where land premiums were deferred, and slum dwellers were transferred in violation of norms. Fortunately, for the SRA, formal orders for none of these approvals were issued.
Patil, when contacted, disconnected the telephone line as soon as the subject was broached. He remained unavailable for comment later, despite several attempts. But he had earlier denied any wrongdoing in these cases, saying that the files weren’t created by his office, and that several SRA officials had been a part of the process. To fix accountability for the lapses and conduct a more elaborate probe on each of these cases, the SRA has now formed another committee under Secretary (SRA) Sandeep Deshmukh, which is conducting hearings and examining each case in detail.