The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has stumbled upon an ingenious attempt at a scam in its recent affordable housing scheme.
It found that a builder applied for several flats in the name of poor tribals from Raigad district. He allegedly made them fill up application forms for the flats, telling them that they were for a state cash lottery.
“Narendra Sharma came to our village and said we could win a lucky draw if we fill a form and submit our ration cards. We realised later that Sharma applied for MHADA flats in our name,” said Raju Waghmare, a tribal from Khalapur hamlet.
Sharma, owner of Sai Shraddha Constructions, allegedly filled 200 application forms and submitted them under the Scheduled Tribes category as the chance of getting a flat this way was higher.
Hindustan Times repeatedly called Sharma but his phone was switched off throughout. Jawahar Singh, MHADA’s chief vigilance officer, has written to the police to book Sharma under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.
“Sharma paid deposits for the flats and opened accounts in the tribals’ names in a local bank. He planned to cheat those who might have been allotted flats through the forms he submitted,” said Singh. Singh said Sharma, who owns a farmhouse in Khalapur, involved three influential tribal leaders in his scam.
In January, when MHADA released forms for affordable houses, Sharma and these leaders met the tribals and sold them the cash-prizes-through-a-lottery story. The tribals fell for it and signed the forms.
In June, when MHADA allotted the flats, 15 tribals were among the winners. Sharma planned to occupy these flats. “We are also asking for Sharma to be booked under the Atrocity Act,” said Singh.
His plan was foiled when MHADA sent back the pre-allotment deposits to the tribals who were not allotted flats. Many tribals thought it was their lottery prize and encashed the pay orders.
When Sharma asked the money to be returned, 139 tribals refused, after which Sharma filed a police complaint accusing them of stealing the pay orders. That’s when the lid was blown off the scam.
While Singh has written to the police, no formal complaint has been filed yet. “It’s between MHADA and Sharma [as of now],” said Surendra Paithankar, senior inspector.