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Science v/s religion

16082007020.jpg                          Asif Patel, whose extended family alone has 11 kids who have not ben vaccinated

Around 20 Konkani Muslim families residing in Taloja village do not get their kids vaccinated as it might lead to impotency

Mumbai Mirror, August 17

Thirty-one kids residing in Taloja village, located 70 kms from Mumbai, have not been vaccinated for polio, thereby becoming a major cause for concern for the Raighad district administration. Several attempts on the part of the administration have not yielded any results as families believe that their kids would become impotent if they take the doses. 

Dominated by Konkani Muslims, the village has 31 such kids who have not been immunised at all. There are many others who do not take the doses on regular basis. Other than impotency, locals point out that “when there is no disease why should kids be given medicines”.  “The fact is that as of now the kids do not have any problem as such. Nobody has ever been affected by polio, so why take the dose,” argues Asif Patel, whose extended family alone has 11 kids who have not been immunised. He justifies his family’s opposition to the vaccination by adding that in the long run the doses might have some effects on the kids. “They might not be able to reproduce,” he added. 

Religious leaders, who play a very important role in the village and have a say in almost everything that locals do, are not doing anything to help the district administration. They point out that the administration must first take care of immediate problems like clean water supply, sanitation, among others, before expecting any help.  “Most people here believe that their kids would get impotent if they are vaccinated. Also some believe that when none of the kids who have not been vaccinated have contracted polio, then why bother. While we do not believe in this rubbish we firmly believe that the administration must look at issues like water, sanitation, health services, before expecting us to convince families to vaccinate their kids,” said Maulana Umar Hanif, a member of Ulema Committee in the area. 

Till a month ago there were 38 kids from the village who had not been vaccinated. Recently, the district collector, Seema Vyas, visited the village and managed to convince parents of seven kids to get them immunised. “The kids who have not been immunised are not only prone to get the disease but are also a threat to the entire area. If at all a case of polio crops up in the area, all the kids in the village and neighbouring areas run the risk of getting infected,” said Ramesh Surwade, resident deputy collector of Raigadh district.  

While the administration is trying its best to somehow convince the parents, they don’t seem to be budging. The authorities have now sought help from locals who get their kids vaccinated. “We will try our best to make them understand the importance of vaccination but there’s a limit to which we can push,” said a helpless Shafiq Patel, member of Taloja Gram Panchayat. Till such time that the orthodox community residing in Taloja village does not shed its inhibitions, 31 kids, and may be many more, continue to live on the edge.

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Who can eat this?

Mumbai Mirror, November 14, 2006

Students at tribal hostel in Kalyan go on hunger strike to protest the poor quality of food served to them

About 60 students of the state-run tribal hostel in Kalyan have gone on a hunger strike, to protest against the very poor quality of food served to them. The students say that most of them fall sick quite often. The students, who presently take turns for the hunger strike, have threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike if the quality of food did not improve soon.

“The food here is pathetic. One can barely call it food. I think inmates in jails get better food than this,” said Jairam Wagh, a tribal from Murbad, who is doing his TY BCom from Agarwal College in Kalyan. Others said that all the three meals served at the hostel were not only bland but also lack nutritional value.

“Uncooked vegetables, burnt rotis, watery dal and raw rice are served to us daily. Though the food is unlimited we don’t take a second helping. In fact most of us eat out when we have the money,” said Ulhas Raut, a resident of Mokhada, a diploma student from the Indian Technical Institute in Ambernath.

The hostel is owned by the tribal welfare ministry and can accommodate 75 students. Presently, 69 students stay at the hostel near Birla College, Kalyan west. Students from tribal families get boarding and lodging for free here.

According to Wagh, “We are supposed to get 200 ml of milk when we wake up. Since we hail from villages we know what milk is all about. But here we get 10 per cent milk mixed with 90 per cent water.” The breakfast is equally pathetic. As per a tribal ministry circular, the students are supposed to get sheera, upma, poha, idli-sambhar and other food. “In all the years that I have been staying here we have got idli-sambhar only once. We get stale roti and vegetable daily as breakfast,” said Pravin Waghmare, a resident of Dhule, who is pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts from JJ School of Arts.

For lunch, the students are to get chapatis, rice, two vegetables and dal. Instead they get watery dal, burnt or paste like rice, one vegetable which is invariably cooked using rotten stock and burnt rotis.

For dinner, the students often get the same food that is served for lunch. “Only if we are very lucky do we get fresh food,” said an irked Umesh Gavit, a resident of Jawhar, who is doing his MBBS from Yerla Medical College, Navi Mumbai. Moreover, the students are supposed to get non-vegetarian food twice a month. “I don’t know what non-veg looks like here. We have never gotten any in the hostel,” says Pradip Virnekar, a resident of Pune, who is doing his HSC from Sonawane College, Kalyan.

The students said that they have been complaining to the authorities for the last several months, but to no avail. “We are now left with no option but to go on a hunger strike to set things right. After all we come from poor families and cannot afford to eat out often,” Waghmare added.

When Mumbai Mirror contacted D L Hiwale, hostel superintendent, he said, “Earlier we used to serve food cooked by our own staff. But now a contractor serves them. Unfortunately, the contractor gets a mere Rs 1,000 per month, per student. The amount is so low that the contractor is unable to provide nutritional food. I have taken up the issue with the ministry and briefed them about the problem.”

What a nutritionist says
Mumbai-based nutritionist Naini Setalvad was appalled when told about the quality of food served at the hostel. “The diet is simply unbalanced. The vegetables are too less and too much of cereals has a negative impact on the growth of a child,” she said. Antioxidants from vegetables are essential for a child’s growth. Moreover, potato is not a vegetable, but a root, she said. “In the existing case, chances of diseases like cancer, diabetes and constipation are very high,” she added.

Setalvad said the gap between lunch and dinner was too long. “There is no fruit in the diet. Lack of adequate nutrients can lead to major depression and mood swings among children,” she said.

She pointed out that in 1992, a research involving students of 800 public schools was carried out in New York, USA. After the study the quality of food was improved, and subsequently  their grades improved and other disorders were also taken care of, she said.

Burnt food, according to Setalvad is carcinogenic (cancerous). “It affects memory and the attention span goes down,” she said. Undercooked food on the other hand causes gastronomical disorders.

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Pradip Virnekar,HSC, Sonawane College

“I don’t know what non-veg looks like here. We have never gotten any in the hostel.”


Jairam Wagh, TY BCom, Agarwal College

“The food here is pathetic. One can barely call it food. I think inmates in jails get better food than this.”
Pravin Waghmare, JJ School of Arts “We get stale roti and vegetable daily as breakfast.” 

D L Hiwale, hostel superintendent
“Earlier we served food cooked by our staff. But now a contractor serves them.”

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Paradise no more

Mumbai Mirror, January 12, 2007

Ex-IITian Parag Palsapure, a resident of Neel Paradise building, regrets the loss of green canopy in his area

Palsapure claims the trees were dried by pouring some chemical on their roots and later chopped

A Nerul resident’s repeated complaints to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) about the chopping of trees on a 2-acre mango garden plot and the subsequent mushrooming of slums on it for more than three years, fell on deaf years. Today, the garden has lost 70 odd trees and gained as many huts.Written applications, calls and even meetings with the civic body, CIDCO and police did not yield any results. All thewhile, he continued to take pictures of the rapid depredation of the plot’s greenery.

July 2003: Smoke billows as green trees are burnt to make way for the huts

When Parag Palsapure, an ex-IITian and a telecommunication expert, bought a house in Neel Paradise at Sector 9 in Nerul, he thought life would be peaceful. Surrounded by greenery, the house was just how he wanted it to be. “In July 2003 when I moved in, the green cover behind the building was one of the driving factors behind buying a house here,” says Palsapure, who now works with a telecom company based in the Bandra-Kurla Complex.

Barely three months after he moved in, he realised that somebody was meticulously chopping trees from the plot.  He found that the trees were first dried by pouring some chemical on their roots, and later chopped. In just a few months, several trees were gone. “In the beginning, I didn’t know who the plot belonged to. So I wrote to MSEB, CIDCO, NMMC and even the police. When I was quite certain it belonged to CIDCO, I called up the then CIDCO chairman who promised to take necessary action,” he says. After many persistent calls made to their office, he was told the plot was handed over to NMMC.

He then began his romance with officials of the NMMC. “I spoke to many of them, right from the ward officer, to his subordinates and even the deputy municipal commissioner. I even filed online complaints on their website. None of it had any effect,” says an agitated Palsapure, armed with copies of complaints sent to the civic body.

July 2004: Hutment begins to sprout amid the lush greenery Oct 2006: The slums get a firmer grip on the two acre mango plot
Jan 2007: A few months down the line, more huts are seen March 2007: The hutment now clearly outnumbers the trees

Palsapure’s efforts may not have had the desired effect, but pictures taken by him on a regular basis of developments on the plot served their purpose. When Mumbai Mirror approached Mahaveer Pendhari, deputy municipal commissioner in-charge of encroachment removal in NMMC with pictures taken by Palsapure, he was shocked. “I am surprised how such an activity could go unnoticed. I will visit the spot and take necessary action,” he said. Pendhari also directed the garden superintendent to punish those responsible for chopping the trees.

“In the next two days, you will see some concrete results. We will not only remove the slums, but also punish those who chopped the trees,” he concluded.

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Wrecklamation!

  Mumbai Mirror, April 12, 2007

Truckloads of debris are being dumped behind Priyadarshini Park. The residents’ forum that controls the park, however, is turning a blind eye. So, who’s reclaiming the land and why?

(Extreme right) The stretch behind Priyadarshini Park where dumping is taking place. (Above) Trucks that enter the park through its main gate dumping the debris on Wednesday

If you thought clandestine reclamation of land happens only in distant suburbs and involves only greedy, unscrupulous builders and developers, think again.

A mere five minutes’ drive from the chief minister’s bungalow in plush Malabar Hill, ceaseless dumping of construction debris behind Priyadarshini Park is eating into the sea. Officials of Malabar Hill Residents’ Forum, which controls and maintains the park, claim they are not aware of any such dumping of debris or encroachment into the sea.

That sounds impossible because trucks carrying all kinds of discard from construction sites start rolling into the park every day just minutes after it is shut for the public at 11 am. The dumping continues till 4 pm, when the park reopens. What’s more, the trucks enter the park from the main gate, which is manned by a private security guard, and leave the same way.

How can MHRF members, some of whom, one assumes, live in buildings near the park, while others surely frequent its jogging track and other facilities, miss all this activity, is a mystery.

When Mumbai Mirror contacted Susieben Shah, general secretary, MHRF, on Wednesday, she first claimed the trucks were bringing in material to construct a storm water drain to prevent flooding during the rains. However, when asked why this material was then being dumped outside the park, she said she had no knowledge of any such dumping happening.

After being informed that this paper is in possession of photographs showing trucks dumping debris, she said this could be from development work undertaken within the park. When we pointed out that the debris contained ceramic tiles, bathroom fitting and gunny bags full of construction discards and that land was being clearly reclaimed, she said: “We have nothing to do with any reclamation.

Maybe the BMC or collector must be doing it. I must say that Priyadarshini Park has not given any permission to trucks with debris to enter the park.”

It turns out the MHRF did move the collector’s office seeking permission to reclaim land behind the park to protect it from erosion by sea waves. But they have not yet got the requisite permission from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority. “Their (MHRF’s) case came up for hearing before the Authority last month. But for want of time it could not be considered,” said Valsa Nair Singh, collector, Mumbai city. “Reclamation by using construction debris is not allowed in any case. If it is so, I will send my surveyor tomorrow to check out the situation and initiate action,” she added.

Mumbai Mirror on Wednesday spotted two trucks carrying debris making repeated trips into the park. The truck driver would stop the vehicle some distance away from the park’s gate and make a call from a PCO. Apparently, this was done to get an all-clear signal from someone inside the park.

The guards at the gate did not even once stop the trucks or check what they were carrying.

Inside, a group of labourers level the debris quickly before the next lot comes in.

Debris comprising all kinds of
construction discards is dumped behind Priyadarshini Park

DEBRIS LOBBY INVOLVED

A source said a group of contractors involved transporting construction debris out of the city to Navi Mumbai-based dumping ground could be behind this.

They said cost of carrying the debris all the way to Navi Mumbai is huge and the contractors by clandestinely dumping the material behind Priyadarshini park must be making a huge profit.

“Apart from the cost of transporting the material to the dump, one has to pay Rs 500 per truckload at the dumping ground for off-loading the debris. But here its all free,” the source said.

ABOUT PRIYADARSHINI PARK

Priyadarshini Park was established in 1985 after residents of the area protested against a government proposal to reclaim the 22-acre plot where the park now stands. But the government had already begun reclaiming land to create a ‘Marine Drive like’ area, complete with a wide road, broad walking track and buildings lining the shore.

As the project was abandoned midway, the open area was given to the Malabar Hills Resident’s Forum to develop the plot into a park and sports complex.

For the last 22 years, MHRF has been holding the licence to develop the park.

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On sale: MMRDA flats!

Mumbai Mirror, April 19, 2007 

Undercover Mumbai Mirror reporters posing as potential buyers visit the Nivara Dakshata Samiti in Mankhurd. They are told to pay Rs 20,000 advance for a 225 sq ft MMRDA flat in Mankhurd or Ghatkopar, out of a total cost of Rs 1.46 lakh… But a top MMRDA official confirms it’s a scam – the flats cannot be up for sale; they are only meant for project-affected persons

Gorakh Surse, chairman of the Nivara Dakshata Samiti and Sai Credit Co-operative Society

At a time when real estate prices in the city are hitting the roof, reports of an agency in Mankhurd selling 225 sq ft flats for a mere Rs 1.46 lakh seemed a bit strange to the Mumbai Mirror team — the Nivara Dakshata Samiti was offering to sell flats constructed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) in Mankhurd and Ghatkopar at the throwaway price. The going rate for residential flats in the same area is Rs 4,000-5,000 per sq ft, but here, the offer price worked out to a mere Rs 648.88 per sq feet! Our team visited the offices of the agency located on the ground floor of Sinhgad CHS, Room no. 32, Building no. 59, posing as a young couple interested in buying a flat.

Gorakh Surse, who claimed to be the president of Nivara Dakshata Samiti, was more than pleased to see us. “We are a registered trust. Our aim is to provide cheap housing to the needy,” said Surse. Sitting with two other office-bearers — Arjun Limbaji Sawant and Rahul — Surse said they had been in the ‘business for several years now’.

The scheme
“First, you have to become a member of our credit society by paying Rs 510. We will give you a receipt for it. After

The Mankhurd flats that are “on sale”
Sai Credit Co-operative Society’s office at Lallubhai compound in Mankhurd

that, you will have to pay us Rs 20,000 for the house,” Surse and Sawant told us. Rahul explained that the Rs 20,000 would be kept as deposit till they are able to gather 140 people like us, who were interested in buying flats.“Every building constructed by the MMRDA has 140 tenements. Once we have 140 members, we will forward the file to MMRDA. Within 10 days, the proposal will be sanctioned and they will allot us an entire building. You will be allotted a house,” said Surse. “Then, you will have to pay Rs 500 per month for the next 21 years to MMRDA.”On being asked about the eligibility for buying a flat, Surse said, “The person should be from the lower strata of society. But if a rich guy wants, he can also buy. All we need is address proof and six photographs.”

‘MMRDA flats can’t be sold’
Chief of MMRDA’s resettlement and rehabilitation department R K Sonawane confirmed it was a scam. “Houses constructed by MMRDA cannot be sold. They are constructed purely for PAPs. If an agency claims that it will get you a house for Rs 1.46 lakhs, they are nothing but crooks. I will advise buyers to report such cases to police and also file formal complaints with my office.”

Interestingly, the agency operates from a building in Lallubhai Colony, an MMRDA settlement to rehabilitate project-affected persons (PAPs).

  A Transcript of Mirror’s conversation with agent 

On Monday, at around 2.30 pm, Mirror reporter Naveeta Singh and photographer Ajinkya Mhatre met Gorakh Surse, chairman of the Nivara Dakshata Samiti and Sai Credit Co-operative Society at his Lallubhai compound office at Mankhurd. Interestingly, Surse promises Naveeta and Ajinkya ‘MHADA’ flats, but shows them an MMRDA site as the place where the flats are supposed to come up. (In an earlier conversation, Surse had promised our reporter Yogesh Sadhwani ‘MMRDA’ flats.) This is the transcript of the conversation they had.

Naveeta: Namaste, sir. We both want to get married. But the problem is that as I am a Punjabi and he is a Marathi. His mom has a problem. And we don’t have a house. Sandeep told us about this scheme.
Surse: Do you have a ration card?
Naveeta: I do have. I am born and brought up in Mumbai.
Ajinkya: She stays in Mumbai. I stay in Ambernath.
Surse: Where do you work?
Ajinkya: MIDC, Andheri East as office assistant.
Surse: You are Punjabi?
Naveeta: Yes. Can you please explain this scheme to us? When will we get the house?
Surse: You know what. Those who stay in Mumbai for the last 15-20 years but have no house… who have ration card and voter’s identity card but stay in slum… We get them rooms with MHADA in just Rs 1.25 lakh.
Naveeta: Just Rs 1.25 lakh? How big is the house?
Surse: 225 square feet.
Naveeta: And where will we get the house?
Surse: Here in this area itself.
Naveeta: Mankhurd?
Surse: Ya, but you should have proof.
Naveeta: I do have my ration card.
Surse: Your name should be in voter’s list. You have ration card?
Naveeta: I don’t have it now with me. I just came here to enquire about the scheme.
Surse: If you don’t have voting card, you can apply in BMC. You will get it in 2 days.
Naveeta: What about the mode of payment?
Surse: First you have to pay Rs 20,000. Then Rs 500 per month for the next 21 years.
Naveeta: This is so nice. We can afford it.
Surse: Ya, this scheme is meant for poor people. Otherwise you get MHADA flats anywhere between Rs 4.5 to 5 lakh
Ajinkya: When will we get the house?
Surse: After we form a group of 140 members who pay Rs 20,000. We will collect Rs 28 lakh and get Rs 28 lakh from the World Bank. We will form a society and give the collective amount of Rs 56 lakh to MHADA.
Naveeta: How big will be the house?

Here, Rahul explains there will be a bedroom, hall, kitchen and balcony in the 225 sq feet house.

Naveeta: Since when are you doing this?
Surse: For the last two months. We have our bank since 1972.
Naveeta: It’s nice that we are getting a house at such a cheap price. Property prices are high even in Panvel.
Surse: We invest public money in our bank and have our Nivara Dakshata Samiti which is into housing. The bank is ours so is the Samiti. We do not have to depend on outside security or surety.
Naveeta: Can one person buy two houses?
Surse: No, only one house on one ration card.
Naveeta: What papers will we get?
Surse: When the rooms are allotted, you will get a letter from MHADA.
Naveeta: Who all are there in your Samiti?
Surse: I am the chairman.
Naveeta: Okay, sir, then we will contact you only.

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Mumbai Mirror, December 24, 2006

The abused kids

Three class II children aged six were stripped and paraded in their underwears in a school in Ambernath to punish them for their underperformance, while a girl from the same class was taken to a dark room and threatened that she would be locked in if she did not study hard to improve her grades.Parents believe the three recent incidents are only the tip of the scandal and that a lot more students were similarly humiliated and abused in Gurukul Grand Union School in Kansai section of the town. Teacher Maria, who ordered the stripping and parading of the students, is now facing an inquiry.

Teacher Maria who ordered the stripping

A large group of students and parents gathered at the school on Saturday afternoon demanding that teacher Maria, who teaches English and is the class teacher for Standard II B, be asked to leave the school. In the group were three boys and a girl, all Class II students, who were victims of Maria’s sickening methods of disciplining kids. Parents told the school management that there are several more boys and girls willing to reveal how they were abused by Maria provided their identities were protected.Horrifying tales of what students went through in Maria’s classes began tumbling out after a Class II B student, who was paraded in his underpants through the school on Friday, refused to attend school the next day. When his mother’s attempts to find out the reason for his reluctance to go to school failed to elicit any response, she asked one of his friends who studies in the same school. “I was shocked when he told me that my boy was paraded in his underpants around the school campus. What kind of teacher would do that to a six-year-old?” asked an agitated Shefali N, the boy’s mother.The boy’s friend told Shefali that he and another boy were also paraded through the school in nothing but their underwear by teacher Maria just two days ago.

Shefali then spoke to her husband, who in turn discussed the matter with the other two boys’ parents. Together, they decided to report the matter to the school management and also speak to some other  parents to find out if more kids were similarly abused by Maria. A few calls later, Shefali said, they were convinced that Maria regularly stripped students and put them through the dark room routine. “Of course, none of the students, shamed by their experience, had spoken about this to their parents,” Shefali added.

While Shefali’s son was punished for being slow in copying Marathi notes from the backboard, the other two boys paid the price for not focusing on studies.

A girl, again a Class II student, revealed that she was taken to a dark room by teacher Maria and threatened that she would be locked in if she did not study hard to improve her grades.

“The kids are so petrified these days that they refuse to go to school. My kid did not tell me what happened to him on the day he was paraded nude. It was only when Shefali approached us that my son narrated his experience,” said Anju D, another abused boy’s mom.

While the school principal was not available for comment, Manjusha Shinde, secretary of the trust that runs the school, and Sarita Kataith, a trust member, said they were shamed by the teacher’s conduct. “We know that what the teacher has done is not correct. We will look into the matter and take suitable action against her.”

Teacher Maria, however, does not show any remorse for her actions. “Yes, I did parade them around nude and also took some of them to dark room and threatened them. I can’t beat them up as the law prohibits me from doing so. But when they do not study, their parents come and confront me. I had no choice but to teach them a lesson so that they concentrate on their studies,” she said.

The parents, meanwhile, are planning a bigger agitation if the school does not dismiss teacher Maria.

There is an urgent need to sensitise teachers on how to handle difficult behaviours and high-risk children. Unfortunately, most schools don’t do so.
– Dr Harish Shetty is a psychiatrist

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…by cops, that is. He sold her a flat he had already sold to someone else

Mumbai Mirror, January 10, 2007

 Haseena Parkar

A Bandra-based real estate developer, who duped underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s sister Hasina Aapa by selling her an apartment he had already sold to another buyer, is now on the run — both from the police and the D Company.

Arshad Shafi Shaikh of A M Developers sold Hasina Aapa, elder sister of the fugitive don, an apartment on the second floor of the four-storied Newton Villa on Chappel Road, Bandra (west). However, she later learnt there was another claimant to the flat, Cynthia Dias, a tenant of the bungalow which was demolished to raise the building.

A complaint was made at the Bandra police station and both Cynthia and Hasina Aapa were questioned. “The matter came to us and we called both the parties. Both of them have valid documents for the property. I advised them to aproach the civil court. Both parties have agreed to settle the matter amicably,” said inspector Deepak Kathkade of the Bandra police station.

The word ‘amicably’, however, has limited currency in the underworld. An associate of Dawood said Bhai and his senior aides in Mumbai have been apprised of the case.

The apartment that now has two claimants to it

Though Kathkade said he has “advised Hasina Aapa to not take law in her hands,” and that his men are keeping an eye on the flat to prevent either of the parties from occupying it, some members of D Company have already taken possession of the property.

Hasina Aapa said she has bought the property legally and would not like to comment further.

But Shaikh’s troubles do not end here. The police is also looking for him for duping a housing finance company by forging documents of eight buyers of flats in the same building and obtaining home loans to the tune of Rs 2.3 crore in their names. A case has been registered against him with the Economic Offences Wing of the Mumbai police.

“Shaikh has some gall. No fake names have been used in the documents submitted to the finance company for eight flats in Newton Villa. It turns out the people in whose names the documents were submitted also knew about the entire thing and were paid anywhere between Rs 2 to 5 lakh for their cooperation. However, we have not been able to trace all of them,” said an EOW officer.

Dias, who refused to say anything on record for obvious reasons, and three other tenants used to stay in the old Newton Villa bungalow owned by Dextar Newton. Shaikh’s firm was given the contract to demolish the bungalow and raise a building in its place by Newton and the tenants. Though he had promised Dias a 500-odd square feet flat on the second floor and even got it registered in her name, he later merged it with another flat on the same floor and sold it to Hasina Aapa for Rs 41 lakh.

Nobody from A M Developers was available for comment at their site office. Shaikh was not available on any of the numbers Mumbai Mirror managed to procure from the site.

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