It has come to light that the Bhartiya Janata Party, under fire for unauthorised construction of its state BJP headquarters on a recreation ground in the most expensive part of Nariman Point, is paying a paltry monthly rent of Rs9 per square foot for the 2,682-sq-ft plot, though the market rate is Rs250 per sq ft. It is however not alone, as all the other 13 major parties, including the Congress, NCP and the Shiv Sena, are also occupying office space ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 sq ft in the same swanky areas of south Mumbai at throwaway monthly rents of Rs6 to Rs10 per sq ft.
Worse still, many have not paid even these meagre rents (see box), according to officials from the public works department (PWD), which owns these plots. In 2006, the high court had criticised the state government, asking it to recover these pending sums or get the offices vacated.
These offices, which were then barracks, were allotted to the political parties in phases, beginning with the Congress in 1970, the BJP in 1979 and the Shiv Sena in 1995. While it appears no fixed formula was used to calculate the rents, their agreement with the government's general administration department was to pay a fixed rent to the PWD. The understanding was that these would remain temporary accommodations and no permanent construction would be allowed.
Atul Kumar of the Nariman Point Churchgate Citizens Association, which filed the RTI application on the BJP office, said this was a classic example of land grab without permissions, on a no-development plot, and without paying any extra money.
RTI activist and former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, “This points to an unholy nexus between political parties and the government. These offices stand on public land, and they should go.”
Meanwhile, state Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the party will be prompt in the clearance of all dues. “We are a party that follows the law and we will not indulge in any act that will lay down a wrong precedence.
I will look into this matter and pay the dues immediately,” Sawant said.