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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.

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.

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

…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.

 Petrified that he might be implicated, son leaves mother unattended after car crash; is arrested anyway

 

Vijay Dongre, was arrested under charges of death due to negligence after he allegedly abandoned his seriously injured mother

 Mumbai Mirror, July 13, 2007 

Vijay Dongre, 30, the son of 50-year-old Mandabai Dongre who left her to die in his car after the vehicle met with an accident in Navi Mumbai, has been booked by the police under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code for causing death due to negligence.

According to Navi Mumbai police, Vijay, a sailor by profession who lived  with his mother at Sagar Co-operative Housing Society in Sector 19, Nerul, left home with his mother early Wednesday morning in his Maruti 800 in order to learn to drive. At about 1 am, he lost control of the car near Seawoods station and rammed first into a divider and then into a pole. While his mother, severely injured, trapped inside the car, Vijay, who also had injuries on his shoulder, head and right ear, pulled himself out of the vehicle and, instead of trying to help his mother, vanished, cops said.Mandabai Dongre was dead when officers of the NRI Complex police station reached the spot at 6.15 am.

Vijay, who mysteriously reappeared on Thursday at his uncle’s house at Sector 48, Nerul, was arrested at 9 pm after police got a tip-off that he could be found there.Speaking exclusively to Mirror just before he was picked up, Vijay claimed with a straight face that he was innocent. “I was rattled when the accident happened. I got out of the car and tried to help my mother, but she was badly trapped in the mangled vehicle. So I went looking for help, but somewhere along the way, I fainted because of my injuries. I came to only after several hours, and when I went to the accident spot, the car was not to be seen. I then went to the municipal hospital nearby to look for my mother and found her body there. Later, I performed her last rites and went to my uncle’s house,” he said, adding that he was “sorry” for what had happened.
 

However, the cops are not buying his theory. They say they got an anonymous call informing them about the accident at 6 am. When they reached the accident spot at 6.15 am, they found Mandabai dead in the seat next to the driver’s and combed the entire area to look for the driver.Sub-inspector P V Kale said: “Vijay claims he lost consciousness. But after we reached the spot, we searched the entire area to look for the driver. Vijay was not seen anywhere in the vicinity.”There is also the question of why he did not go to the police after he regained consciousness.”He should have gone straight to the nearest police station for help immediately after the accident happened,” Kale said.

A senior police official, who did not wish to be named, said Vijay ran away from the spot as he sensed trouble. “He works with a cruise liner and felt he would have a case against him after the accident, which could have an impact on his job as well. Why else was he was hiding for almost two days? Why did he not report the incident to the police?” the officer asked.Though police are yet to question the uncle at whose house Vijay surfaced, his elder brother Ajay was inclined to give him the benefit of doubt.Vijay and Ajay’s parents have been living separately for the last ten years, and while Vijay lived with his mother, Ajay lives with the father in Bhandardhara. He came to Navi Mumbai on Wednesday for his mother’s funeral. “Ideally, Vijay should have taken our mother to hospital. But since he fainted, there was nothing he could do,” he said.

995888423_172cd42121.jpg

A villager belonging to the Budh community at Arde village

July 2006 

Years after independence, the caste divide is considered to be more or less a thing of the past at least in developed states. But 75 km away from Mumbai, in Arde village, the divide is very much prevalent. Residents belonging to the so-called upper caste do not fill water from the same well as the ‘lower caste’ members do. Moreover, they do not drink, eat or even visit the houses of lower caste residents.

Located in Karjat Taluka, the village is known for its caste divide in the entire Raigad district. While all the other villages in the area have done away with the system, at Arde, the lower caste people still reside on the outskirts of the village. They do not get invited to weddings and at funerals they are made to sit away from the rest of the crowd.

 

Shockingly, the upper caste Kunbhi Maratha families do not drink water from any of the five wells that are used by the lower caste members of the Buddh community. “Till 1976, we were not even allowed to fill water from any of the wells in the village. We had to travel at least seven km everyday to fill water from the river,” says Madhukar Dhanavate, a retired schoolteacher, who has been born and brought up in Arde.

It was only in 1976 that the lower caste members came together and decided to put an end to the divide. “We wrote to the authorities stating that we would start filling water from a particular well that was being used by the upper caste Kunbhi Marathas,” says Dhanavate. As decided, the lower caste members started filling water from a well under the supervision of district administration.

 

Ever since the administration ahs dug five wells in the village and the Buddh community uses each one of them. “But sadly though, the upper caste people do not use the wells anymore. As soon as we started using the wells, they stopped using them,” says a disheartened Dhanavate, who leads the community in the village.

 

The upper caste residents have dug their own private well. Here the lower caste Buddh community members are not allowed. On record, the upper caste members say that it is a matter of convenience that they do not use the five government wells. They say that the five wells are far for them. “We have no issues using the five wells. Just that they are a little away from our houses. There is no caste disparity in our village anymore,” says Uttam Shelke, a respected resident of the village.

 

On the condition of anonymity the upper caste members admit that the divide is still as wide as it used to be years ago. “How can we drink water from the same well as theirs? At the end of the day they are lower caste people. Ever since they started using our wells with the help of government machinery, we stopped using them,” admits a villager. Another villager points out that none of the upper caste members eat or drink at lower caste members’ house.

“Only and only if it is essential for us to visit them that we go to their houses. We do not invite them for our weddings. And for funerals, we try and keep them away from the rest of the crowd,” says another member of the Kunbhi Maratha community.

As is obvious, years later, things haven’t changed much in Arde.

 

995888449_c035dc9ffa_m.jpg

Women from the upper caste

Kunbhi Maratha families

draw water from their wells  

About Arde

 

Located 75 km from Mumbai, Arde village is accessible from Vangani railway station on central line. The village is home to 50-odd Buddh community families and around 150 Kunbhi Maratha families.

 

Majority of lower caste residents are small time farmers. Those who are educated have temporary jobs. As far as the upper caste Kunbhi Marathas are concerned, most of them are affluent farmers. Some are even construction material suppliers. They also own cattle in large numbers.