The state government on Thursday went into a huddle to strategise and address the issue of mill workers’ housing that threatens to be a hot potato in the upcoming civic elections.
With no agreement, the state cabinet decided to set up a team of small group of ministers led by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to finalise the statement to be made in the state legislature on Friday.
It was also decided that the government would stay firm and not offer any political advantage to the Opposition by conceding to their demand.
Industries minister Narayan Rane said, “Shiv Sena-BJP leaders like Manohar Joshi and Mangal Prabhat Lodha have purchased mill land from the owners. In the past 29 years, the saffron combine did not remember the mill workers and this morcha is just for political interests,” he said.
The mill workers want the houses to be given to them free of cost. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority has constructed 6,900 houses in central Mumbai at the cost of Rs800 crore.
Officials insisted that the government could not bear such a huge burden. “We will charge about Rs8 lakh for each house, which is the cost of construction. We are finding ways to bring the cost down, but giving it for free is difficult,” said Sachin Ahir, minister of state for housing.
Earlier in the day, the Opposition forced the government to adjourn proceedings in both the houses of the state legislature even as mill workers and political members of all three main Opposition parties — the Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena— participated in a march to Azad Maidan.
“We were caught on the backfoot. A solution should have been fast-tracked on the issue instead of deliberating and calling all party legislators and stakeholders meetings. Now, it’s a political issue,” said a minister requesting anonymity.
A section of Congress and Nationalist Congress Party ministers were upset with Chavan for failing to gauge the Opposition’s strategy to politicise the issue.
Sources that Rane and public workers minister Chhagan Bhujbal were of the opinion that the houses should be sold at market rates and the proceeds disbursed among all mill workers families. Majority of the ministers opposed this plan saying it went against the basic premise of providing homes to mill workers.