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Maharashtra housing scam: More trouble ahead for minister accused of graft?

As the Opposition continued to demand Prakash Mehta’s resignation on Friday, opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil came up with a fresh allegation

mumbai Updated: Aug 05, 2017 09:42 IST
Prakash Mehta,Maharashtra housing minister,graft
It was alleged Mehta’s younger son Harsh and other relatives benefitted from the revamp of a project, even as the original tenants were kept waiting. (HT File)

There may be more trouble in store for state housing minister Prakash Mehta, who stands accused of favouring builders in two different slum redevelopment projects.

On Friday in the Assembly, a fresh allegation was levelled against him over another real estate redevelopment scheme at Ghatkopar. It was alleged Mehta’s younger son Harsh and other relatives benefitted from the revamp even as the original tenants were kept waiting. The revamp was done by a real estate firm in which Mehta was additional director till October 2014.

In another significant development, the residents of Mhada transit camp and slumdwellers at Pant Nagar in Ghatkopar told HT that a developer, Nirmal Properties and Holding Company Private Limited, was seeking consent from them for a redevelopment project. Mehta has been accused of clubbing the transit camp redevelopment with a slum rehabilitation project, which could mean a windfall for the developer who gets it. Mehta has denied allegations he was favouring Nirmal.

A spokesperson of the firm said she was unable to provide a comment. HT also found the state housing department, the SRA, and Mhada that owned the plot had opposed Mehta’s directive to expand the scope of the Pant Nagar project by clubbing transit camp redevelopment and slum rehabilitation.

The housing department had clearly said that the two schemes could not be clubbed under Mumbai’s development control rules (DCR). Documents with Hindustan Times show the housing department said, “The project is not feasible as there is a sewer line and slums exist on the plot reserved for a recreational ground. Further, as per the High Court order issued in 2002, while redeveloping slums, the actual size of the reserved plot has to be set aside. Considering this, the in-situ redevelopment of the slums cannot be possible.”

When asked by the housing department, Mhada had said that it had already approved a contractor’s (BG Shirke) proposal for redeveloping the transit camp. However, on the insistence of Mehta to reconsider, the housing department agreed to proceed if Mhada and SRA had no objection. Finally, a government resolution (GR) was issued on January 6, 2017.

As the Opposition continued to demand Mehta’s resignation on Friday, opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil came up with a fresh allegation and said in the assembly that two buildings, Laxmi Bhuvan and Gopal Bhuvan in Kirol area of Ghatkopar, were redeveloped by Sai Nidhi Realtors under the slum rehabilitation scheme by adding slums in nearby areas. While the original tenants were yet to get tenements, Mehta’s son Harsh and other relatives got flats in the new buildings as tenants, Vikhe-Patil alleged, making this the third housing scam charge against Mehta.

He said that while the minister was no more working as director of the firm, his close friend, Mukesh Doshi, still headed the company.

Clarifying his position, Mehta said, “The company was formed in April 2006 and I was appointed director in November 2008. Before being appointed minister, I resigned from the director’s post on October 20, 2014. We have done nothing wrong in any project,” Mehta told HT. He also said his son Harsh was a legal tenant of two buildings.

In a statement in the assembly on Friday, Mehta denied the allegations levelled against him in connection with the Pant Nagar project as well as Sai Nidhi Realtors’ redevelopment project.

Mehta said the Mhada transit camp plot at Ghatkopar has not been allotted to any developer, neither had any developer been appointed for slum rehabilitation. The GR of January 6, 2017, clarified this and also stated that if a developer did not come forward, Mhada is free to take up the project, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, sources said the BJP leadership had sought details of the allegations against Mehta and his response. Mehta had a long meeting with Chief Minister Fadnavis on Thursday night. Party sources said Fadnavis was deliberating on what action should be taken. The effect was visible on Friday as Mehta said that he would resign from the post or relinquish charge of the housing department if Fadnavis directed him to do so.

First Published: Aug 05, 2017 09:39 IST