May 19, 2008, IBNLive
She was waiting in the lobby outside the MHADA chief’s office. And like most people who wait outside offices of elusive bureaucrats, we struck up a conversation. Savita was here to tell the MHADA that her old parents had been coerced to consent for redevelopment. And it was not just her family alone, the developer, Shreepati Builders had managed to convince many other senior citizens living in the Juni Chikalwadi chawl in a prime locality in Central Mumbai to give up their property for redevelopment. She said that the developer had convinced most of the parents that their children were driven by greed and if they listened to them, their chawl would never get redeveloped. The developer had successfully managed to divide the two generations in many families. This struck me as a possible story.
So there I was next day, at the chawl of 230 rundown houses, badly in need of reconstruction and at the entrance was a board “We have rejected the offer of M/s Shreepati Builders. Anyone who enters into any contract with them with respect to Chikalwadi does so at their own risk.” There I met another one of Savita’s friends, Abhang Sakpal, a young man in his twenties. His story was similar. His father had signed the agreement with the developer, but the father refused to divulge any details about it. The senior citizens had not even been given a copy of the agreement. About a dozen families told me the same story. The children had filed many RTIs and got details that showed the project in poor light. But barring a few elders who withdrew consent promptly, most had refused. The younger generation’s argument was that a MHADA acquired property should be developed by MHADA itself. There was no need of a ‘joint venture’ with a builder. The case was already in the high court. The court had directed the developer to produce 70% consent.
My research on Shreepati builders threw up the following:
A) The only two ‘joint venture’ projects that MHADA had approved for chawls were being handled by him. In the case of the other project, Pimpalwadi, the Supreme Court had to intervene to ensure a fair agreement. Strictures were also passed against two top MHADA officials involved.
B) Most of the chawls and rundown colonies in the surrounding areas were being redeveloped by him.
C) They had built the tallest tower in Mumbai, Shreepati Arcade.
The next two days went in trying to fix up an interview with MHADA and Chaturvedi. MHADA officials kept on referring me to someone or the other saying that the particular project was not under them. I felt like Mussadilal of ‘Office Office’. Finally they agreed but the officer S. Lohokre, was non-committal. ‘Residents keep changing their minds Ma’am. They agree to one scheme and then other builders lure them and they change their minds. Most projects are stalled because residents fight over
a) Choice of the builder
b) FSI offered by the builder
c) Compensation plans
d) transit accommodation
But we will always stand by the residents.” With so many complicated problems, no wonder most redevelopment projects in the city are under litigation. As I was about to leave he added, ‘Ma’am it would be nice if you meet Chaturvedi also, he has a lot of experience in these matters.’
And the first question Mr. Chaturvedi asked was, “You have been very persistent about the interview. I hear you met Lohokre at MHADA? What did he say?” (I had not told each that I was meeting the other.) As I circled around the question, he asked me why was I doing the story? Who was going to benefit from it? And finally just before the interview came, “I am not afraid of anything ma’am. You see I am also recording whatever interview happens in this room.” It was a veiled threat. As the interview progressed, he told me that the residents are being greedy. They want more than permissible FSI. They want extra monetary compensation. He had a whole litany of complaints. “But I have remained firm. They will get only what the law permits. I will give the court proof of 70% consent in a month’s time.” How? “I am negotiating,” was all he said.
I returned to office and filed my story, but it got lost somewhere in the tragedy that struck Jaipur. Later on I came to know that Chaturvedi had called up one of my seniors and asked him not to show the project or him in poor light. My senior thankfully ignored the message. This blog is to tell Chaturvedi that the story might not have got its due because of a greater tragedy, but we have not complied with his request for no publicity!