For someone who seems to be losing his grip over his constituency, three-time MLA and two-term Congress MP Eknath Gaikwad doesn’t seem to be a worried man.
Of the six MLA constituencies under him, Dharavi, Chembur, Sion Koliwada, Wadala-Naigaon are held by Congress MLAs. But barring Dharavi, a constituency held by his daughter Varsha Gaikwad, who is also the state Women and Child Welfare minister, Congress MLAs of the other three constituencies are known to be staunch opponents of his. Anushakti Nagar and Mahim, the remaining two Assembly constituencies are with the NCP and MNS, respectively.
Even in Dharavi, if the 2012 BMC polls were any indicator, Congress is on a sticky wicket. Traditionally, Dharavi’s six corporator wards have seen Congress securing wins, but in the civic polls it managed to retain just one seat.
Seated in his office at Sion, Gaikwad, however, appears confident. “Once the elections are here, all Congress MLAs and party workers will unite and campaign for the party,” he says. His MPLAD fund, spent mostly on toilet seats, constructing welfare centres and gymnasiums, records the second lowest utilisation in the state. Gaikwad reasons that it is politically prudent to spend it all on the eve of elections. “Voters have a short memory span. They don’t remember the work done for four years,” he said.
“One of the main problem people have with Gaikwad is that he lives outside his constituency. All he has done to rectify this is to buy an apartment in Dharavi recently,” said Anjum Shaikh, a resident. Pointing to the building at Goldfilled Compound where Gaikwad now owns an apartment, Shaikh says the real issue lies just a stone’s throw away at the site where MHADA is redeveloping Dharavi’s sector five.
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The Dharavi Redevelopment Project, in limbo for nine years, will finally see part fruition. Gaikwad, according to voters, has failed to take any initiative to execute the project keeping the slum-dwellers interest in mind. The project, to be initially redeveloped through private participation, failed to elicit much interest from developers as the 21 bidders who were earlier eager to grab a piece of the redevelopment pie, eventually backed out when the realty market slackened. While the market has improved since then, the housing board has now decided to redevelop one of the five sectors of the dense slum on its own.
The move will generate a significant affordable housing stock instead of these going to the developer as his sale component. However, Gaikwad has made no qualms about his opposition to MHADA redeveloping the project stating it will lead to creation of poor quality homes.
“For nine years, Dharavi has seen no development, no new schools or colleges ,” said Raju Korde of Dharavi Bachao Andolan.
As in the case of the slum sprawl of Dharavi, Gaikwad is for offering private developers a higher FSI for redeveloping the single room BDD chawls of Naigaon, several gaothans spread across Mahim Koliwada, Dharavi Koliwada, Sion Koliwada, Chembur and Anushakti Nagar. “The projects are not like individual SRA redevelopment, they involve creation of schools and other infrastructure. It is best to have developers take care of it,” he said.
On other issues, it is infused with vote bank populism as is evident in his solution for the growing numbers of encroachers in MHADA transit camps meant for those living in dilapidated buildings. “The encroachers should be given the transit tenements on ownership basis on payment of a fee,” said the 74-year-old.
Known to have trounced senior Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi in 2004, Gaikwad is now beset with problems of infighting in his own party. As a Dalit leader, Gaikwad has been pushing for transfer of a sea-facing plot adjacent to Chaityabhoomi, the final resting place of B R Ambedkar, from the Centre-owned National Textiles Corporation to the state government for the construction of a Ambedkar memorial.
Gaikwad holds an attendance record of 98 per cent in Parliament but has nothing to show in terms of private member bills and fares below average when it comes to participation in debates. “We need to have interacted with our MP in order to rate his performance. Despite trying to get him to hold discussions with citizens from his seat, he has rarely made an attempt,” said Rajkumar Sharma, Advanced Locality Management member from Chembur.