The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has asked the deputy municipal commissioners (DMCs) of the seven zones in the city to prepare a list of “professional complainants” who file bulk Right to Information (RTI) applications, seeking details of building plans to allegedly extort money from property owners in exchange for getting them permissions or licences with the help of civic officials.
The civic chief, who had sent out 50 special teams to demolish illegal structures erected by restaurants and pubs in the city in the aftermath of the Kamala Mills fire that killed 14, on Monday also issued a circular to all the DMCs directing them to name officials who are allegedly part of this nexus letting illegal extensions and encroachments mushroom all over the city.
“There is a nexus of these professional complainants and civic officials. They tell property owners that if they approach the civic officials through professional complainants, they will not only get the required permission put also protection from any action that the civic administration may take against them. If they approach the BMC directly they face too many questions, too many process to be followed. Hence, they choose the first option, which is easier for them,” said Ajoy Mehta, BMC commissioner.
Mehta on Monday asked all the DMCs to investigate the role of BMC officials from building and factory department, Medical Officer of Health (MoH), officials of public health department, officials from Mumbai Fire Brigade in the alleged nexus with the “professional” complainants.
“We had conducted a mass demolition drive against restaurants violating fire safety norms and those who had encroached open space in last two days. This pointed out that illegalities on such a large scale cannot take place without the involvement of civic officials. We will find out if there has been any lapse or illegalities were knowingly neglected by officials of concerned departments in connivance with these professional complainants. I have asked DMCs of all seven zones to investigate the roles, fix responsibility, make a list of the names of the officials involved and the professional complainants and submit it to me. We will then decide the next course of action,” Mehta added.
While some of the activists have slammed the civic chief for allegedly “maligning activists”, other say that it is high time to break this nexus. “There are some black sheep who resort to such ways by seeking information through RTI and extort money on the basis of that. But the BMC commissioner cannot malign all the activists. As the trustees (activists) of Watchdog Foundation, we have been taking several issues in public interest by filing applications under RTI Act. We have sought an explanation from the BMC commissioner and have urged him to clarify this,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee of NGO Watchdog foundation.
Meanwhile, Vidya Vaidya, trustee, Bandra Reclamation Area Volunteers Organisation (BRAVO), said, “If any such nexus exists, it is high time that we break it. It’s otherwise maligning the other genuine RTI activists and destroying the sanctity of the RTI Act.”
The civic body on Monday warned commercial establishments to comply with the fire safety norms and other norms under Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act within 15 days or face another round of demolitions. The DMCs too have been asked to get these establishments inspected once again as per as ‘Fire Codified Requirements’.