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Mumbai: Former SRA chief Vishwas Patil cleared projects without slum-dwellers’ consent

Probe by 4-member panel finds irregularities in 33 out of 137 files that former Slum Rehabilitation Authority chief Vishwas Patil’s office cleared in June

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai | Updated: November 30, 2017 3:05:16 am
mumbai slum, sra chief, vishwas patil, slum rehabilitation authority, slum redevelopment plan, mumbai slum probe, indian express Probe by 4-member panel finds irregularities in 33 out of 137 files that Patil’s office cleared in June (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar/Representational/Files)

Builders must have 70 per cent consent from residents of Mumbai’s slums for their redevelopment. A probe has, however, revealed that this basic norm was overlooked for some redevelopment projects cleared in the last month of former Slum Rehabilitation Authority chief Vishwas Patil’s tenure.

Following a barrage of accusations levelled over files cleared by Patil, a 1996-batch IAS officer, in his final month in office, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had ordered a probe into all such approvals. Patil retired from service on June 30, 2017. Acting on Fadnavis’s directive, Patil’s successor Deepak Kapoor had formed a four-man inquiry committee, comprising town planners and legal experts to review each case.

The probe, which found irregularities in 33 out of 137 files that Patil’s office had cleared in June, has pointed to some cases where slum projects were approved without the mandatory consent from the slum residents.

On June 28, two days before his retirement, Patil had signed approval for a “provisional” Letter of Intent to be issued for an SRA project in Bandra (East), the inquiry found. The approval itself was of controversial nature. A public plot, which was already reserved for the construction of a transit shelter for Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) tenants, was to be treated as a “site for slum redevelopment”. In other words, the existing residents, all tenants, were to be deemed as slum-dwellers.

READ | Ex-SRA chief cleared 8 slum schemes on ‘non-slum land’

But an even bigger irregularity, the panel found, was that the approval was given without the slum-dwellers’ consent. Highly placed sources in the government also said there were no rules to issue LOIs on a “provisional” basis. Further, as no consent from the slum-dwellers was insisted upon, another mandatory condition, the finalisation of the eligibility list of beneficiaries (Annexure-II) was also sidestepped. The committee has also raised some questions over the construction rights that were sanctioned to the project developer.

This wasn’t an exception. The committee has found that the slum-dwellers’ consent was ignored in some other cases too. For instance, on June 27, Patil’s office cleared a file permitting the change of the developer for an ongoing slum scheme in Kandivali. “An approval was signed without the General Body Resolution of the slum society (as mandated),” the committee has observed. While also questioning the permission for lowering of the area of a redevelopment scheme, the investigation found that “without the prior consent of slum dwellers, the SRA (under Patil) had permitted transfer of 216 slum residents. It has also questioned town planning and parking area relaxations granted to the new developer. On June 28, Patil’s office similarly cleared a proposal for the ‘change of developer’ in an ongoing project in Bandra, which did not have the “consent of 70 per cent of the slum dwellers.”

The inquiry has also found that Patil’s office, on June 29, allowed the addition of a state government-owned land for a project involving building of a permanent transit camp on a private plot in the K(West) civic ward. “In violation of norms, the NOC from the government department concerned was not sought,” the inquiry found.

On Tuesday, The Indian Express had highlighted the panel’s findings on how Patil’s office had cleared several redevelopment projects on areas that weren’t even notified as slums, and hence were ineligible for slum redevelopment projects at that stage. It had also highlighted the unusual “movement of files” in June. Out of the 33 projects where irregularities were found, the inquiry revealed that 28 were cleared in the final three days of Patil’s service.

Patil, who has denied any wrongdoing previously, remained unavailable for comments despite several attempts. Acting on the government’s orders, the SRA has now formed another panel for a case-wise probe of the irregularities noticed and fixing of the accountability for the lapses observed. The new committee has started conducting case-wise hearings.

SRA inquiry panel Notices Another Irregularity In Central Mumbai Highrise

Even as Lokayukta M L Tahaliyani is investigating accusations levelled against Housing Minister Prakash Mehta and Vishwas Patil in relation to a slum redevelopment project by a real estate major in central Mumbai, the SRA’s inquiry panel has pointed out another irregularity in the same project. While Mehta’s approval permitting the developer to utilise the buildable space originally sanctioned for the expansion of existing rehabilitation tenements of the slumdwellers to build tenements for the project-affected people (PAP) retain an incentive sale area of 71,822 square feet is already under the scanner, the inquiry panel has also pulled up Patil for permitting relaxation of parking norms for these additional PAPs.

sandeep.ashar@expressindia.com

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