Facing accusations of misuse of power for an alleged unauthorised construction, a Shiv Sena minister in the Maharashtra government has now offered to surrender the public land under question, which is being managed by his charity trust. Minister of State (Housing) Ravindra Waikar has come under fire after the Congress released official documents last June, indicating that the minister had used public funds for illegal construction activity inside the Aarey Milk Colony.
While the Shiv Sena minister has been denying these accusations and has even labelled them as political vendetta, his trust — the Shivsamarth Shikshan Prasarak Sanstha (SSPS) — has now approached government officials seeking to give up possession of the land. Official records show that Waikar, as an Opposition legislator, had sought permission from the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), a state undertaking, to utilise ‘special funds’ allotted for development work that MLAs recommend, to construct a public gymnasium for people residing in tribal hamlets and slum colonies in the Aarey Milk Colony. Waikar represents the belt in the Legislative Assembly.
Records further show that while the administrative approval for the work was accorded on August 21, 2014, when the previous Congress-NCP regime was still in power, the actual work for construction of the gymnasium began on January 13, 2015, by which time Waikar was already a minister. While the permission was for construction of a ground-level gymnasium over a 3,700 square metre land, the Congress had released a letter on March 18, 2015, saying the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Aarey Milk Colony had written to the executive engineer of the Mumbai Slum Improvement Board under MHADA that an illegal floor had been constructed in the garb of development activity and that the surrounding area had been illegally fenced from all sides. “The discrepancy is of a very serious nature, especially considering that you are a state-run undertaking,” the Congress letter had said.
Even as the Aarey CEO’s letter required MHADA to pull down the “additional construction” and “immediately remove the illegal fencing”, the Congress has alleged that “the minister’s office had pressured the authorities against taking any action”. The MHADA functions under the state housing department, of which Waikar is the MoS. The Congress had also objected to the decision to hand over the day-to-day maintenance and management of the public gymnasium to SSPS after the construction work was completed on July 12, 2015. Waikar is the trust’s chairperson. On August 19, 2016, Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam filed a petition in this regard before Maharashtra’s Lokayukta.
On Thursday, when the Lokayukta was hearing the matter, Waikar’s lawyers presented two recent letters — dated May 20, 2017 and June 9, 2017 — that said the SSPS had written to the slum board’s executive engineer stating that it did not want to continue with the management of the facility. “The facility had been constructed utilising public funds and with due approvals from the collector’s office. But for the last few months, a smear campaign is on to defame the SSPS. It is nothing but political vendetta. A complaint has also been registered before the Lokayukta in this regard. The trust wants to inform you that it is no longer interested in the maintenance and management of the facility. You are therefore requested to take the necessary measures in this regard,” the SSPS wrote.
Both the letters were issued on the SSPS’s official letterhead, which identifies Waikar as the trust chairman. Both have been signed by SSPS general secretary Anant Nar, a Shiv Sena corporator who is currently the chairman of the Mumbai municipality’s civic improvements committee. While Waikar maintains that he has done no wrong, Nirupam Thursday claimed that SSPS’s offer to give up possession of the land was an “admission of guilt”. With the Lokayukta scheduling another hearing in the matter for July 3, the Congress has pressed the demand for action against the minister. The Mumbai Slum Board, meanwhile, has replied to SSPS, stating that the request for giving up possession couldn’t be acted upon at this stage since the matter was pending before the Lokayukta.