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How slum authority turned den of corruption

Hindol Sengupta |

Updated: June 24, 2007, 12:02 AM IST
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How slum authority turned den of corruption
Don-turned-politician Arun Gawli still calls the shots at Dagdi Chawl in Mumbai.

Mumbai: Arun Gawli, Mumbai's don-turned-politician, still calls the shots at Dagdi Chawl, the infamous Mumbai slum. In fact, his word is law there. Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan fight proxy turf wars in these slums and one regularly gets to hear these whispers in Mumbai tabloids.

Incidents of mysterious death of builders or they being shot in broad daylight are quite common here. Politicians and even senior police officials keep their eyes glued to these slums for, no one can ignore the crores to be made from controlling Mumbai's shantytowns.

It is, therefore, no surprise that Mumbai's Slum Rehabilitation Authority has turned into a den of corruption and the much-hyped Slum Rehabilitation Scheme has become irreparably defunct, leaving little hope for the 15 million people who live in the Mumbai slums.

"The system of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority is such that it gives a lot of scope to absorb unaccounted underworld money. The mafia is flushed with money. The people are corrupt and take bribes, the bureaucrats are all flushed with money. They don't have good investment avenues. The SRA scheme is such that the investment is not only safe in it, it can also be easily camouflaged. And, therefore, it is a greener pasture for the underworld and bureaucrats," YP Singh, a former IPS officer, reveals.

Last year, social activist Sailesh Gandhi filed a public interest litigation at the Mumbai High Court over Slum Rehabilitation Scheme after many slum-dwellers complained of corruption. The court directed the Anti-Corruption Bureau to investigate the matter as a letter from the ACB to the additional chief secretary, now in possession of CNN-IBN, clearly suggests.

But the Maharahtra Government actually obstructed the Investigation. CNN-IBN has in its possession a letter from the state government to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, clearly asking SRA officials not to reveal any information to the ACB investigators.

"I saw a letter from the deputy secretary (housing) to the CEO of SRA which said you have to give ACB only those info that the court directs you to. Don't give anything else. This, in my mind, is the most damning piece of evidence of corruption. I cannot imagine a government asking its own department not to give information to the Anti-Corruption Bureau. I cannot think of anything more corrupt and collusive," Sailesh Gandhi alleges.

Meanwhile, the buildings built under the SRA and where a 'lucky few' have managed to move in tell yet another story. For instance, take the two buildings which were erected in the heart of Dharavi.

Built in 2001, it's today called Dharavi's ghost enclave. Barely 35 of the flats in the complex are occupied today. There is no water supply and hardly any lights on the lampposts after dark. Those living there say it's worse than the slum itself.

"There are no lights here, we have a lot of problem," Punaram Patil, a slum dweller, says. "The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority said everything will be fixed in three months. It has been three years, we have been only facing abuses. Take our words everywhere, if they cannot give us what they promised, let them give us back what we had. That was better than these buildings," Mohammed Ayub, another slum dweller, says.

The two buildings were built by Mukesh Mehta, an American of Indian origin, who is a consultant to the state government for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project. He admits to problems, but puts the blame on the government. "Very frankly, I will agree with the people here. Under the present circumstances, they would feel shortchanged, governments change, officers are shifted," Mehta admits. Mehta is now pitching for private investment in slum redevelopment.

"As per his plans, Dharavi development will now be carried out by private bodies under a private-public partnership. And the developers will have to perform and perform with quality. There will be bank guarantees with a much higher focus on development," Mehta says.

But Magasaysay Award winner Jockin Aruputham - who has spent a lifetime working in Mumbai's slums - has no faith in Mehta's plans. "The future of Dharavi is gone to the docks. The tune of corruption is up to Rs 55,000 crore. Everything has been given to one man, Mukhesh Mehta," Aruputham claims.

In all this, it is the slumdweller who is left homeless. Their homes are often brought down under the slum rehabilitation scheme, after which they discover that their so-called free home was either never built or has been blatantly sold off. "We have been to Vilasrao Deshmukh, we have been everywhere. But no one listens to us. They just cheat us. We don't have the money to fight back," Raziaram Nimbole, another slumdweller, says.

"They said we will give you a home in two years, it has been 13 years," Ram Harihar Gupta, another slumdweller, alleges. "If everything is for the builder, why do we need to have a government? Let the builder only do everything," Kunwar Singh points out.

First Published: June 24, 2007, 12:02 AM IST
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