A day after an Indian Express report on irregularities noticed in tenders worth Rs 3,612 crore for building low-cost homes in Maharashtra under the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY) or Housing for All scheme, more skeletons have tumbled out of the state government’s closet. It now turns out that the state government’s housing board— the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada)— had floated the tenders without being in possession of even an inch of the land required for the construction.
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The newspaper had reported that irregularities in tender conditions had compelled the state government to stay the execution of the tenders. Mhada’s Konkan Board had on October 24 floated tenders for construction of 33,510 houses for the economically weaker sections and 6,250 other houses for low-income segment on 11 plots situated in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and the Konkan belt. The houses were to be constructed on a turnkey basis. While the newspaper reported that one of the irregularities flagged was that in the case of four out of eleven construction sites— two in Vasai, and one each in Karjat and Khalapur— the tenders had been issued without mandatory locational clearance of the Centre State Monitoring Committee. There was no administrative or technical approval in place.
It turns out that allotment of the remaining seven lands is also under a cloud. On November 4, Thane collector Mahendra Kalyankar had written to Maharashtra Principal Secretary (Revenue) Manukumar Shrivastav informing that plots sought for allotment by Mhada had either been already allocated to some other government agencies or had been marked for a designated purpose other than construction of low-cost homes. Shrivastav’s office forwarded Kalyankar’s communication to the Housing department for further action.
Following a proposal from the Housing Department, the Revenue Department had on September 19 directed Kalyankar to allocate the seven plots to Mhada for the low-cost housing initiative. But Kalyankar’s letter cites the previous allotments and commitments to say that he won’t be able to reallocate these to Mhada at his level. Five of these sites were in Thane’s Kalyan tehsil whereas the remaining two were in Thane tehsil itself. The Indian Express possesses a copy of Kalyankar’s communication.
Some of the plots sought had already been allocated for mill workers’ housing, rehabilitation of Sanjay Gandhi National Park displaced families, and a slum rehabilitation project. Further, a couple of them have been notified as part of the development plans for a new city— coined NAINA— coming up near the Navi Mumbai international airport.
Even as the state Housing Minister Prakash Mehta has said that tenders for all the sites in question would be processed again by the end of the month, senior state officials said that floating tenders without possession of land or securing necessary approval could lead to cost escalations and technical hitches later. When The Indian Express contacted Mehta, he said the lands in question would soon be allotted to Mhada and that all approvals were in the pipeline. “The CSMC has already cleared the seven sites,” he said.
After a construction major wrote to the government contending that the tender conditions were designed to favour a specific contractor, the housing department officials, who found merit in this accusation, had advised the government to block the tendering process. The department had also raised questions of tendering the four projects where CSMC approval was pending. The Thane Collector’s letter to the government has raised further eyebrows. Sources confirmed that the housing department has asked the chief vigilance office with Mhada to further probe the accusations raised by the construction major.
Mehta, meanwhile, announced a decision to cancel the contracts of turnkey public housing projects that were allotted by Mhada prior to 2014 but are yet to be completed.