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Author: Sanjay Sawant

Mumbai: Elphinstone Road railway station will be known as Prabhadevi

Nagpur: After renaming Oshiwara, an upcoming railway station in the Western line of Mumbai suburban railway, to Ram Mandir, the Maharashtra BJP government on Friday passed a resolution to change the name of Elphinstone Road railway station to Prabhadevi. The details for change in name has been sent to the Ministry of Railways in Delhi.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had proposed to rename Elphinstone Road station to Prabhadevi. The proposal was was passed by an all party MLA resolution in the state assembly.

After this, there will be three changes in names of Mumbai suburban railway stations pending in the state assembly. It includes changing the name of Dadar railway station to Chaityabhumi, Grant Road railway station to August Kranti and Charni Road railway station to Gaondevi.

Speaking about the change in name of Elphinstone Road railway station, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “The residents of Worli and Prabhadevi and our partner Shiv Sena had been demanding for a long time to change the name from Elphinstone Road to Prabhadevi. This change was also approved by the state assembly and we will send the proposal to the central government.”

But this is not the only change in name, the state government has introduced in recent times. The new suburban station between Jogeshwari and Goregaon was to be proposed as Oshiwara in November. But suddenly before the proposal, its name was changed to Ram Mandir. Fadnavis had given a go-ahead to the name change proposal.

In fact, last week, the BJP-led government in Maharashtra has added the “Maharaj” word in the names of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. Now, CST will be known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) whereas the Mumbai international airport will be known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport. The name changed proposal and adding of the “Maharaj” word was unanimously approved by the state assembly.

Fadnavis said that the demand for adding the word Maharaj was pending so long. So, the cabinet gave a green signal and passed the Maharaj word unanimously in the state assembly.

However, the opposition parties have called the decision to modify the names purely political and aimed at attracting Maratha Voters. “The community has organised more than 40 morchas over the last four months seeking reservation, but the Fadnavis government has only been giving assurances,” Congress MLA Nitesh Rane said.

“The Maharaj is our god and the BJP could not gain from adding only the word, Maharaj, in the name. The BJP government is doing vote bank politics ahead of upcoming Municipal Council and Civic polls, scheduled next year,” added Rane.

Situated on the Western Railway line, Elphinstone Road station was named after Lord Elphinstone, who was the governor of Bombay between 1853 to 1860. The Mumbai international airport was earlier known as Sahar International Airport and renamed to Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in 1999, whereas the government had renamed the Victoria Terminus to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in 1996.

First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 14:45 IST

Maratha morcha: Give quotas or face poll debacles, community warns Devendra Fadnavis

Nagpur: Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday and warned him that if the state government fails to accommodate quotas for the community an electoral rout might be a possibility.

Shiv Sena MLAs and MLCs at the Maratha Morcha in Nagpur on Wednesday. Sanjay Sawant/FirstpostShiv Sena MLAs and MLCs at the Maratha Morcha in Nagpur on Wednesday. Sanjay Sawant/Firstpost

Shiv Sena MLAs and MLCs at the Maratha Morcha in Nagpur on Wednesday. Sanjay Sawant/Firstpost

This is for the first time that the morcha established a direct contact with the chief minister despite holding over 40 silent rallies all over Maharashtra since 9 August this year seeking reservations.

“The chief minister is the highest authority of the state. So please don’t send us back empty handed. If you fail to give reservation to Maratha Community then we will teach you a lesson but not through bullet but ballot in the next election,” a delegation member of the Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha apparently told Fadnavis during the meeting in Nagpur.

The delegation sought to know from the chief minister when Prime Minister Narendra Modi could implement a decision as big as demonetisation overnight why the state can’t give reservation to the Maratha community in a speedy manner. The delegation made it clear that it wants a resolution to the issue in a time-bound manner.

Upon suggestion from state Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Fadnavis assured the delegation that a panel would be formed with experts as members from different fields to discuss the Maratha reservation issue threadbare.

The Nagpur edition of the Maratha Morcha started by 12 noon from Yashwant Stadium and ended at Moris T point at 3 pm on Wednesday in which over 1.50 lakh people from all age groups and varied professions participated. More than 150 all-party MLAs, MLCs and ministers were part of the rally.

Three senior ministers of the state government Chandrakant Patil, Vinod Tawde and Deepak Sawant personally took Morcha delegates — Rutuja Mohite, Ankita Bhandwalkar, Himani Bhaltilak, Sanjana Wanapur, Jayashree Bhuiwar and Vaishnavi Daph — to the chief minister.

Apart from reservations, other major demands of the Morcha included the amendment in Atrocities act, capital punishment to the accused in the Kopardi rape case and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.

Among the political participants in the rally Maratha leader from BJP Chandrakant Patil, minister Vinod Tawde, MLC and opposition party leader Radhakrishna Patil, MLA Nitesh Rane, NCP MLA Shashikant Shinde, MLC Narendra Patil, MLC Vidya Chavan, BJP MLA Aashish Shelar and MLC Pravin Darekar were prominent. From the Shiv Sena, Cabinet Minister Eknath Shinde, Minister of State Dada Bhuse, Ravindra Waikar, Sanjay Rathod and MP Sambhaji Raje Bhosle were persent.

Several schools and colleges and business establishment remained shut in Nagpur although no incidents of violence were reported.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 20:11 IST

Demonetisation aftermath: Free rides over, be prepared to pay up at toll nakas from midnight

Planning to take the highway while travelling over the weekend? Be prepared to pay toll. The government had abolished toll at all national highways and state toll points following demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. But 23 days after the decision was taken, toll collection is set to resume from Saturday. All toll booths have been equipped with card swiping machines, so there might be long queues, as people pay toll using credit or debit cards.

In Mumbai, there are five toll booths for entry into the city. The toll booths, run by MEP Infrastructure Limited (MEPL), are located on the Sion Panvel highway at Vashi, Airoli Bridge in Airoli, Lalbahadur Shastri Marg and the Eastern Express Highway in Mulund, and the Western Express Highway in Dahisar. The minimum toll at all five booths is Rs 35, and motorists will have to pay this from midnight of 2 December. Moreover, there is also a toll naka on the Bandra-Worli sea-link, and this too shall carry a Rs 60 toll.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Highest toll collection in the state of Maharashtra takes place on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Toll for the 95-kilometre road is Rs 99 for a one-way journey for a car.

Following the centre’s decision of demonetising old notes, Road and Surface Minister Nitin Gadkari had announced all national highways will waive off their respective tolls. Following this announcement, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis also declared that toll nakas in the state, run by Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), the Public Works Department (PWD) or by private companies, will all waive toll collection until 2 December.

According to the transport corporation of India and a study by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the average waiting time at a toll naka is three minutes. Going by this average, said RTI activist Sanjay Shirodkar, thousands of minutes and crores of rupees in the form of fuel, have been saved across the country.

However, toll free travelling is unlikely to become a reality any time soon. Talking to Firstpost, PWD minister Chandrakant Patil said it is just not possible to do so. “We are preparing a new transparent policy, to make small vehicles exempt from paying toll. There is an option of buy back in the agreement, which is what the Congress-NCP government had done before. The new government, which has been in power for two years, has shut 12 toll nakas permanently, while 53 others have exempted small vehicles from paying toll. The government has paid Rs 798 crore on account of this,” Patil said.

He added that the state will follow the Centre’s directives to National Highways; if the latter will become toll free, roads in Maharashtra will follow suit. “Over the last 23 days, the five toll nakas in Mumbai — each earning an average daily collection of Rs 1.97 crore — have all incurred losses. If the extension is to continue, the period of toll collection will also increase,” he pointed out.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 20:20 IST

BMC chief Ajoy Mehta says Mumbai civic body aims to go cashless in 60 days

At a time when the nation is dealing with demonetisation and the subsequent cash crunch, a quiet cashless revolution is unfolding at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is aiming to go completely cashless in about 60 days from now. To facilitate the transition, the BMC is developing an in-house software, said Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta in an exclusive interaction with Firstpost on Thursday.

The municipal corporation has been working on this transition for about two months, which is aimed at putting an end to the harassment faced by contract workers. “We have been getting complaints that contractors do not pay the designated minimum wages to their workers. That was the main trigger that led us to say that we will pay the contractor provided they pay their workers through RTGS,” Mehta said.

The move is also prompted by complaints from contractors as well, Mehta said. “There have been complaints that when contractors come to collect cheques, they are subjected to harassment. This move will also change the problem,” he said.

The BMC directly employs about one and half lakh people and provides indirect employment to about 70,000 contract workers. There won’t be any major cost pressure for the corporation to go cashless, the municipal commissioner said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 8 November, announced one of the biggest demonetidation exercises ever carried out in the country. Besides clamping down on the black money hoarders and counterfeit note makers, the exercise was also aimed at pushing the system to a cashless mode by encouraging payments through mobile banking, internet banking and using technology that facilitates prepayment instruments. Almost 70-80 percent of India is living in cash economy.

The demonetisation move resulted in cash crunch across the country since the banking system is short of cash on account of the sudden withdrawal of a substantial chunk of currency, which constituted 86 percent of the total currency in circulation in terms of value.

Mehta said the cash crunch, however, hasn’t made any operational difficulties for the corporation since the corporation mostly operates on cheques.

(With inputs from Dinesh Unnikrishnan)

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 21:03 IST

Maharashtra govt takes back World Trade Center in Mumbai for lease norm violations

Convinced after an enquiry that the World Trade Center (WTC) at Cuffe Parade in Mumbai has violated lease norms, the Maharashtra government on Thursday ended the lease of the iconic WTC in Mumbai and took the property under its custody.

World Trade Center in Mumbai. Screenshot from WTC websiteWorld Trade Center in Mumbai. Screenshot from WTC website

World Trade Center in Mumbai. Screenshot from WTC website

The WTC, which is officially known as the M Visvesaraya Industrial Research and Development Centre (MVIRDC), had entered into a lease agreement in 1970 with the purpose of giving a boost to trade and commerce.

In October, a Mumbai Mirror piece listed out the major lease violations in the 30-story building.

“Among the major violations found by the collector denying the state its dues – it is supposed to share 50 per cent of its earnings, after deducting all expenses, with the state; allotting space to a restaurant in the refuge area, construction of offices and shops without permission, setting up of as many as eight mobile phone towers on government land, and financial irregularities.”—the report said.

However, MVIRDC gave the building on sub-lease to Worle Trade Centre over a decade ago in violation of the original lease norms. Soon after the Worle Trade Centre took over the 48025 sqm complex it further sub-leased it to different national and international firms.

It has been alleged that the WTC has not paid dues from 2012 amounting upto Rs 20 crore.

The hearing was on for last three months under City Collector Ashwini Joshi, who informed the state government of the ongoing irregularities following which the government acted on his report on Thursday after the nod from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The state government has also filed a caveat in the Bombay High Court on Thursday to this effect. A copy of the order to the WTC is available with Firstpost.

Former Union minister Kamal Morarka and industrialist Vijay Kalantri looks after the affairs of the WTC.

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 23:15 IST

Cash strapped tipplers choose country liquor over IMFL, as demonetisation hits alcohol hard

The central government’s decision to demonetise higher-value currency notes has had an unlikely victim; sale of alcohol has been hit badly in the state of Maharashtra. Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) sales have dropped by 30 percent in the last two weeks, while sale and consumption of country liquor has gone up by 10 percent.

IMFL sales have dropped by over 30 percent since the demonetisation announcement. PTI representational imageIMFL sales have dropped by over 30 percent since the demonetisation announcement. PTI representational image

IMFL sales have dropped by over 30 percent since the demonetisation announcement. PTI representational image

State excise commissioner V Radha confirmed to Firstpost about there being a drop in the sale of IMFL. However, he added, revenues have still gone up over the April-October period. Rs 7,022 crore was collected in revenue from alcohol sale for the period between April and October 2016, while the figure for the corresponding period of 2015 was Rs 6,799 crores, she added. The annual revenue for 2015-16 was Rs 12,500 crore, and the target before March 2017 will be Rs 15,000 crore, Radha said.

“In the last six months, we have seized goods worth Rs 19.83 crore, an increase of 21.56 percent compared to last year. Not only this, but we’ve also arrested 9,469 people in the six months between April and October for dealing with sale of illegal liquor, as against 7,303 people in the corresponding period for last year,” Radha added.

The revenue department, which collects data on a monthly basis, has analysed the information in the two weeks since 8 November, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made his announcement. It has discovered a 30 percent drop in sales of IMFL, but has noticed country liquor sales have gone up by 10 percent.

“There is a cash crunch currently, since notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 aren’t being used. People are saving money because of this, and are buying more country liquor as against IMFL. Sales of country liquor have gone up,” confirmed state excise minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule.

The state government had already banned 850 country liquor stalls selling toddy or palm wine across Maharashtra. The state contributes about 20 percent of the country’s IMFL consumption, and over 2,000 wine shops sell IMFL across Maharashtra. IMFL sales contribute to 45 percent of the state’s alcohol consumption, while country liquor contributes 35 percent.

We already banned 850 Tadi (Toddy or Palm Wine) shops in state, which is result that increased in the sale of Country liquor, he added. Maharashtra is around 20 percent contributor of IMFL of Country and more than 2000 shops of IMFL. IMFL sales in Maharashtra amount to 45 percent, while Country liquor contributes 35 percent, Bawankule said.

The state excise department has also changed laws allowing storing and stocking alcohol at home. From the previous limit of 12 bottles of alcohol every month, it has now gone down to only two bottles at home. Social activist Anna Hazare, who has long been campaigning for alcohol prohibition, along with women’s rights groups and NGOs, had made this demand. The state government officials have released a toll free number — 18008333333, and and a WhatsApp number — 8422001133, for complaints or information about sale and consumption of illegal alcohol.

First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 16:43 IST

Demonetisation: ATMs of all Mumbai cooperative banks shut due to scanty supply of notes

Mumbai is no different from other towns and cities in India when it comes to facing a severe cash crunch, with most of the banks struggling to meet people’s requirement of notes. This is even as a significant number of ATMs have remained in operation since PM Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation exercise on 8 November.

All ATMs of cooperative banks, including the multi-state ones have not been functioning for the last 10 days. Of the remaining ATMs run by private and government banks, only half are working, according to a senior official from the finance department.

In the last 10 days, people have been spotted in long queues in front of banks from two to six hours a day.

A file image of people queuing outside a bank. PTI

A file image of people queuing outside a bank. PTI

According to an Additional Chief Secretary of the Mantralaya, there are 3,900 ATMs and 2,100 of banks, including cooperative, government, private and foreign banks in Mumbai, of which 40 percent of the banks belong to multi-state cooperative scheduled banks and District Central Cooperative (DCC) banks. All scheduled bank and DCC bank ATMs have been forced to close since 8 November’s demonetisation move. The remaining 60 percent of ATMs belong to private, national and foreign banks, he added, on the condition of anonymity.

Firstpost has checked ATMs in Mumbai and found that those belonging to multi-state scheduled banks, including The Saraswat Co-operative Bank Ltd, Abhyudaya Co-operative Bank Ltd , TJSB Sahakari Bank Ltd, Janta Sahkari Bank Ltd, Cosmos Bank, Apna Sahkari Bank, Shamrao Vithal Cooperative Scheduled Bank, Punjab & Maharashtra Co-operative Bank, Janakalyan Sahakari Bank Ltd, Mumbai District Central Co-operative Bank Ltd, Jaoli Sahakari Bank Ltd, The Greater Bombay Co-operative Bank Ltd and many others have been closed.

Talking to Firstpost, Punjab & Maharashtra Co-operative Bank’s (PMC) Manager Madhavi Gholkar confirmed that all the ATMs across Mumbai have been closed due to the inadequate supply of currency notes. “We have 122 branches in Maharashtra. Andheri is old branch of PMC and more than 50,000 customers are with us. But till yesterday, hardly 20 percent of customers withdrew money as per RBI guidelines,” she said.

Saraswat Bank has also been sending text messages to customers saying, “There is an inadequate supply of currency notes. Hence we may not be able to allow withdrawals in part or full, depending on the availability of cash at a particular branch. The situation is likely to improve soon. We request your kind co-operation.”

The chairman of the Mumbai District Central Co-operative Bank Pravin Darekar told Firstpost that they have more than 20 ATMs in the city but in the last 10 days all hold insufficient amounts of money. “So we closed them to avoid facing customers’ anger.” Darekar also mentioned that they will file a PIL against the ban that DCC banks cannot accept old currency notes.

“The DCC Banks in Maharashtra are in a bad situation when RBI decided not to accept Rs 500 and 1,000 notes after demonetisation. There are 31 districts banks with 4,500 branches all over the state. Rs 65,000 crore money was deposited and Rs 45,000 crore worth of loan money given to customers,” added Darekar. “In the first three days, DCC banks received Rs 3,000 crore worth old currency notes in denominations of 500 and 1,000. So we have serious questions about this amount,” he said.

Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said that they require 2300 crore worth of currency notes to fulfill the country’s demand. But right now only Indian government mint can only produce 300 crore pieces of currency notes a month. This means the serious crunch of currency notes in the country will take next seven months minimum, Nirupam said. “From Sunday onwards, we will tell people that demonetisation is fraud and implemented without preparation,” he claimed.

First Published On : Nov 19, 2016 11:21 IST

Demonetisation: ATMs of Mumbai cooperative banks shut due to scanty supply of notes

Mumbai is no different from other towns and cities in India when it comes to facing a severe cash crunch, with most of the banks struggling to meet people’s requirement of notes. This is even as a significant number of ATMs have remained in operation since PM Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation exercise on 8 November.

All ATMs of cooperative banks, including the multi-state ones have not been functioning for the last 10 days. Of the remaining ATMs run by private and government banks, only half are working, according to a senior official from the finance department.

In the last 10 days, people have been spotted in long queues in front of banks from two to six hours a day.

Queue outside a SBI branch on Wednesday. PTIQueue outside a SBI branch on Wednesday. PTI

Queue outside a SBI branch on Wednesday. PTI

According to an Additional Chief Secretary of the Mantralaya, there are 3,900 ATMs and 2,100 of banks, including cooperative, government, private and foreign banks in Mumbai, of which 40 percent of the banks belong to multi-state cooperative scheduled banks and District Central Cooperative (DCC) banks. All scheduled bank and DCC bank ATMs have been forced to close since 8 November’s demonetisation move. The remaining 60 percent of ATMs belong to private, national and foreign banks, he added, on the condition of anonymity.

Firstpost has checked ATMs in Mumbai and found that those belonging to multi-state scheduled banks, including The Saraswat Co-operative Bank Ltd, Abhyudaya Co-operative Bank Ltd , TJSB Sahakari Bank Ltd, Janta Sahkari Bank Ltd, Cosmos Bank, Apna Sahkari Bank, Shamrao Vithal Cooperative Scheduled Bank, Punjab & Maharashtra Co-operative Bank, Janakalyan Sahakari Bank Ltd, Mumbai District Central Co-operative Bank Ltd, Jaoli Sahakari Bank Ltd, The Greater Bombay Co-operative Bank Ltd and many others have been closed.

Talking to Firstpost, Punjab & Maharashtra Co-operative Bank’s (PMC) Manager Madhavi Gholkar confirmed that all the ATMs across Mumbai have been closed due to the inadequate supply of currency notes. “We have 122 branches in Maharashtra. Andheri is old branch of PMC and more than 50,000 customers are with us. But till yesterday, hardly 20 percent of customers withdrew money as per RBI guidelines,” she said.

Saraswat Bank has also been sending text messages to customers saying, “There is an inadequate supply of currency notes. Hence we may not be able to allow withdrawals in part or full, depending on the availability of cash at a particular branch. The situation is likely to improve soon. We request your kind co-operation.”

The chairman of the Mumbai District Central Co-operative Bank Pravin Darekar told Firstpost that they have more than 20 ATMs in the city but in the last 10 days all hold insufficient amounts of money. “So we closed them to avoid facing customers’ anger.” Darekar also mentioned that they will file a PIL against the ban that DCC banks cannot accept old currency notes.

“The DCC Banks in Maharashtra are in a bad situation when RBI decided not to accept Rs 500 and 1,000 notes after demonetisation. There are 31 districts banks with 4,500 branches all over the state. Rs 65,000 crore money was deposited and Rs 45,000 crore worth of loan money given to customers,” added Darekar. “In the first three days, DCC banks received Rs 3,000 crore worth old currency notes in denominations of 500 and 1,000. So we have serious questions about this amount,” he said.

Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said that they require 2300 crore worth of currency notes to fulfill the country’s demand. But right now only Indian government mint can only produce 300 crore pieces of currency notes a month. This means the serious crunch of currency notes in the country will take next seven months minimum, Nirupam said. “From Sunday onwards, we will tell people that demonetisation is fraud and implemented without preparation,” he claimed.

First Published On : Nov 19, 2016 11:21 IST

Demonetisation: Signs of deep freeze in Mumbai realty as stamp duty, registrations fall by 35%

After the government announced the decision to ban high value currencies of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on 8 November midnight, stamp duty collection on real estate deals in cities such as Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik has witnessed about 35 percent decline, signalling a deep-freeze in the market.

Officials estimate the daily loss on this count at almost Rs 3 crore. There are 503 registrar offices in the state.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

According to N Ramaswamy, inspector general of controller of stamp and registration, about 5,300 documents used to come for registration on a daily basis. This had come down to around 3,500 after the announcement, a decline of 35 percent. This includes sale of property, land and leave and license agreements.

“From 1 November to 8 November, we collected Rs 64 crore. After the demonetisation, the collection dropped to Rs 42 crore. Our daily collection used to be Rs 8 crore. Now it is just Rs 5 crore,” he said over the phone from Pune.

The stated reason for the demonetisation measures as explained by prime minister Narendra Modi on 8 November is to curb black money, fake currency and terror financing. And real estate is one of the markets where black money use has been rampant. Market observers have already predicted up to 20 percent decline in realty business as demonetisation impact plays out completely. The resale market, where the black money plays a bigger role than primary market, is likely to see a sharper fall in prices, they said.

According to market sources, the white-black ratio in Mumbai and Thane markets is 60: 40 or 70 : 30. What this means is 60 percent of the deal money is paid through cheque, DD or RTGS and 40 percent as hard cash. The stamp duty and registration fee are paid only on the white payment. With the demonetisation measures closing down on black money generation, the real estate market is feeling the pinch.

However, Ramaswamy said since 99 percent of stamp duty and registration transactions are done online nowadays, the registration officials have no headache of dealing with old notes.

Stamp duty accounts for 5 percent and registration fee forms 1 percent of the total property cost in Maharashtra.

According to Ramaswamy, last financial year the state had earned Rs 21,767 crore. This year from April to October 2016 the amount stood at Rs 11,438 crore.

Out of total revenue, Mumbai accounts for 35 percent, Thane 15 percent, Pune 20 percent and Nashik 10 percent.

“Though we are witnessing a decline in registration income, we hope to match last year’s figure by year end,” said Ramasawamy.

In Mumbai there are two main registration offices, one at BKC and another at city collector office.

“Earlier there used to be 8 to 10 enquiries daily for registration. But for the last 10 days, there have been hardly any,”an employee working with the city office said.

According to this employee, the resale market is bearing the huge brunt. “If the situation continues, it is unlikely that we will match last year’s figure,” the employee said.

First Published On : Nov 18, 2016 19:07 IST

Demonetisation: Religious places to maintain balance sheet, deposit donations on daily basis

Mumbai: A week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, Maharashtra’s famous temples and shrines are busy counting money. The state government issued a circular on Wednesday asking all religious bodies, NGOs and charitable trusts to maintain a daily balance sheet and deposit donations received, in banks, on a daily basis.

Earlier, religious places used to deposit donations received on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.

Religious places had been seeing a surge in donations after the ban with many devotees dropping in the banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes apart from gold, silver and other valuable items through donation boxes. So, to avoid black money through donations in religious places, the Law and Judiciary Department of the Maharashtra government issued the circular.

Representational image. Reuters

“It is now mandatory for all temples and public trust offices to deposit donations received, daily in the bank,” said legal consultant Rajendra Sawant. The circular, a copy of which is available with the Firstpost, is applicable for all charitable trusts, NGOs and temples who have been received donations in old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.

There are more than 1,000 temples and shrines registered with the charity commissioner’s office in Maharashtra. Besides, the state is also home to several popular temples including the richest temple of the country, Shree Siddhivinayak Temple Trust in Mumbai.

Talking to Firstpost, Narendra Rane, chairman of Shree Siddhivinayak Temple Trust, confirmed that he has received the new circular. “From today onwards we are counting all donations received in our cash boxes on a daily basis. Earlier, we used to do weekly counts in front of bank employees and our members. But seeing the pressure on banks, we have decided to count it using the temple staff,” said Rane.

A copy of the circular issued by Law and Judiciary Department of Maharashtra State government

A copy of the circular issued by Law and Judiciary Department of Maharashtra State government

Interestingly, though the temple has witnessed a 25 per cent fall in the number of devotees in the last 10 days, it witnessed an increase of 50 percent in donations, Rane added. “Before demonetisation, the average weekly collection was Rs 35 to Rs 40 lakhs. This time, we received Rs 60 lakhs in cash. The daily average has also gone up from Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 6.5 lakhs in the last 10 days,” he added.

Rane claimed that earlier majority of the devotees would donate notes of lesser denominations, but post demonetisation, the number of higher denomination notes has increased. “We have received 90 new notes of Rs 2,000, 1,060 notes of Rs 1000  (Rs 10.60 lakh) and 3,340 notes of Rs 500 (Rs 17 lakh),” said Rane. Though the temple trust is not accepting old currency notes, it is unable to avoid them since notes are dropped anonymously.

Though the temple trust is not accepting old currency notes, it is unable to avoid them since notes are dropped anonymously. In fact, at many shrines, signs have been put up to discourage devotees from donating the invalid Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

Kolhapur’s famous Mahalaxmi temple has also started daily count of donations from Thursday.

First Published On : Nov 17, 2016 18:27 IST

Navi Mumbai civic body lodges FIR against DY Patil Hospital, threatens to seal

Mumbai: Trouble seems to be mounting for the DY Patil group as Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC)  filed an FIR on Tuesday against the DY Patil Hospital in Nerul for treating patients despite warned not to do so.

In July, Income Tax Department’s raid of the group’s offices had revealed unaccounted cash and gold.

On 30 September, the NMMC had cancelled the hospital’s licence after it failed to renew its licence despite a six-month grace period, a senior official from the health department of the NMMC told Firstpost.

DY Patil Hospital in Nerul. Image courtesy: Deepak SalviDY Patil Hospital in Nerul. Image courtesy: Deepak Salvi

DY Patil Hospital in Nerul. Image courtesy: Deepak Salvi

As per The Bombay Nursing Home Act, it is mandatory for every hospital and nursing home to register with their local municipal body in every three years. It is also required to obtain a no objection certificate from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to operate in the state.

“We have filed a FIR against the hospital’s present dean Dr Shirish Patil and the DY Patil Hospital at the Nerul Police station on orders from commissioner Tukaram Mundhe,” the NMMC official said on the condition of anonymity.

Laziness of DY Patil Hospital?

According to the official, the DY Patil Hospital’s registration license expired on 31 March 2016. But the hospital management has not bothered to renew it yet.

NMMC had informed the hospital of the same on 1 April 2016.

The NMMC had also given a grace period of up to 29 September to the hospital to renew its registration licence and submit NOC certificate. But the hospital failed again. Hence, on 30 September, the NMMC cancelled the hospital’s registration licence, the official told Firstpost. A notice was issued to the managing trustees including Dr DY Patil, Ajeenkya Patil and Vijay Patil, but there has been no response yet.

The cancellation of registration meant the hospital was not allowed to attend to or admit new patients from 30 September, however, it could continue treating patients who were already admitted, the health official said. But despite that the hospital continued to attend to new patients through its OPD section.

It was then that commissioner Mundhe directed the health officer to lodge a FIR against DY Patil Hospital for illegally treating patients, the offiical said, adding that if the hospital fails to produce the NOC from MPCB then the police can seal the hospital.

Mundhe has CM’s support

The interesting thing is that according to our sources, two days ago Mundhe had travelled with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in a helicopter from Navi Mumbai to Mumbai. It’s learnt that in those 20 minutes Mundhe explained the scenario of NMMC to the CM. Sources confirmed that the CM had given a green signal to Mundhe’s actions against the hospital.

So, after running bulldozer on illegal buildings, gaothans and unauthorised construction, Mundhe’s eyes are now fixed on the big fish. And the FIR against the hospital is a part of that, the official said.

Repeated attempts to contact DY Patil Hospital dean Dr Shirish Patil failed, but commissioner Tukaram Mundhe confirmed that the corporation has filed a FIR against the DY Patil Hospital, and if the hospital continues to take new patients, it would seal the hospital as per rule. “I appeal to patients to not visit the hospital because it is operating illegally. Nobody is above the law. NMMC’s executive health officer repeatedly reminded them but they just ignored,” Mundhe told Firstpost.

Nerul Police station Senior Police Inspector A Pol confirmed that a FIR was filed against the DY Patil Hospital and action will be taken soon.

First Published On : Nov 16, 2016 21:03 IST

Demonetisation: Shiv Sena sides with Mamata Banerjee as anger rises against PM Modi

Mumbai: Anger over the sudden demonetisation move is now not limited only to the serpentine queues outside ATMs or to the crowded counters at banks but it has become a political hot potato for the political parties to exploit for their benefit.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. PTIShiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

With the cash crisis getting worse with each passing day, in a surprise move National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ally both at the Centre and in the state Shiv Sena decided to participate in a protest march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday after getting a call from West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

The parties would apprise President Pranab Mukherjee on the incomprehensible currency crisis situation that the country plunged into soon after the dramatic abolishment of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 on the midnight of 8 November as a legal tender.

In an urgent meeting of party leaders, that was called by Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray, the party chief reasoned that if PM Modi could share the dais with their political bete noire and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, there is no reason for them not to go with Bannerjee. Thackeray told his party members that the Trinamool Congress head was taking the step after seeing the plight of the country’s citizens.

Although the Shiv Sena chief made it clear that the party is with the government’s effort to tackle black money, he came down heavily on PM Modi for leaving people in the lurch with the sudden demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. Thackeray reportedly said that instead of going behind those people with accounts in Swiss banks PM Modi pushed the country’s poor into trouble. He also took potshots at the Prime Minister for leaving for Japan soon after.

“Modi did a surgical strike along the LoC and deserved praise. However, his demonetisation decision could bounce back on him,” Thackeray had said earlier in a press conference last week.

Even as the party is openly going against the BJP, it did prepare a cushion for its drastic actions to keep the alliance intact.

Mamata Banerjee and Uddhav Thackeray had a talk. This is not power and politics. It concerns the citizens of India. We have no issue to knock the door of any party for the cause of poor, needy people of India,” Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut told the media.

Senior journalist and political analyst Abhay Deshpande felt that the Shiv Sena was moving on a well-thought out plan.

“Thackeray’s criticism is a clear indication that Sena is taking distance from the political consequences of Modi. Sena strategists are feeling that BJP will face the wrath of Mumbaikars during the upcoming civic elections in the 10 Municipal corporation elections,” Deshpande said.

However, it is not for the first time the Shiv Sena is not on the same page with the NDA.

In 2007, the party supported Congress candidate Pratibha Patil for the office of the country’s president. Citing reasons for not going with the NDA nominee, then Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray had taken the stand that since Patil was the first woman candidate to contest the poll for the country’s highest office and that she is from Maharashtra as well, were reasons enough for the party to support her. The late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was the NDA candidate in the presidential race in 2007.

Despite being a Congress candidate incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee also got support from Balasaheb Thackeray during the 2012 presidential poll. Ironically, Mukherjee dined with the then Shiv Sena chief in the presence of Pawar at Matoshree — the Thackeray residence and Shiv Sena headquarters. The reason for backing Mukherjee by Shiv Sena was that he was a good candidate.

Although the Shiv Sena shared a formidable relationship with the BJP, it had severed its ties of 25 years ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly election in 2014. In the last years, despite being in the government both at the Centre and in the state, the party spared no opportunity to harshly criticise PM Modi.

First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 22:59 IST

Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes ban: PM Modi did an outstanding job, Anil Bokil tells Firstpost

Most reports that followed post Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s dramatic announcement on Tuesday evening clamping down on the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes had one thing in common — the role of Anil Bokil and his NGO Arthakranti Pratisthan.

Anil Bokil. Image from FacebookAnil Bokil. Image from Facebook

Anil Bokil. Image from Facebook

The Maharashtra-based organisation claims that it gave a presentation to the Modi cabinet on August 2014 how to remove black money from the system. The cabinet was all ears and reportedly sought more material to convince itself of the positive impact that such a move might create. Following this, one of the core members from Bokil’s NGO on the condition of anonymity, claimed that a senior official from the Prime Minister’s Office was constantly in touch with the office bearers of Arthakranti Pratisthan after the NGO made its presentation to top BJP ministers at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi at the behest of the PM.

No sooner had the move was taken to junk the biggest Indian currency notes, the organisation has been claiming that it was, in fact, their idea which was submitted to the Prime Minister even before he became the country’s premier. Bokil, who is trained as an engineer and as a chartered accountant in an exclusive interview to Firstpost, spoke about his meeting with Modi, the many theories that are popping up on how long he actually met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and his thoughts what ails the Indian economy and how the country needs to get over the financial trauma.

When did you first meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

I first met PM Narendra Modi in December 2013 when he was serving as the chief minister of Gujarat along with my team from Arthakranti Pratishtan. After that, we regularly met top BJP leaders including LK Advani. Two years after Modi formed the government at the Centre, I and my team met him again in July 2016. We gave a presentation on how black money could be wiped out from the country to the Union cabinet ministers in August 2014 soon after Modi became the PM.

Actually, since 2000, we have been regularly meeting BJP top leaders like Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Manohar Parrikar among others.

Modi in our first meeting listened to us for around 90 minutes. He had assured us that he will definitely consider our suggestion and now after three years when we first met him, the Prime Minister practically took the initiative to erase black money from the system.

How do you react to the PM’s move of scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination currency notes?

I could only say that it’s a great decision and a great gesture. I personally congratulate Prime Minister Modi for taking this decision fast. All Indians know that our PM is a daring man. It’s a historical decision as it will free the Indian economy from black money. Out of the total currency in circulation, 80 percent notes were of the denomination of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. Fake currencies are being pumped into India from the neighbouring countries quite easily. It only costs Rs 3 to make a Rs 1,000 fake currency note. That means with an investment of just Rs 3, the neighbouring nations actually put Rs 997 fake cash into our system.

We last met the Prime Minister in July 2016. But the sudden decision was even shocking for us. We also proposed withdrawal of the existing taxation system and replacing it with a single-point transaction tax.

PM Modi took up the challenge and this would strengthen our economy. I am the happiest man in the country today.

Post the currency ban what should be the next step of the government?

To suddenly scrap high-value denomination notes is 50 percent of the job done. But the remaining 50 percent to wipe out all the 56 taxes from the country is going to be a very tough decision. All 130 crore Indians should rally behind PM Modi to get these taxes removed. Eighty percent of the country’s transaction is done by cash and only 20 percent are done through cheques, demand draft and online. So nobody knows about the extent of actual money in our country. Besides that, most of the terror groups, unsocial elements use cash transfer from hawala or fake notes. Whenever we physically exchange the cash, we usually don’t record the cash transaction . So from now on people will be more drawn towards e-payments, cheque, DD etc.

The country’s taxation policy also speaks little about cash transaction. Apart from the terror links that black money is normally associated with, this menace has encouraged corruption and has also increased the rate of unemployment and staggered the growth of the country.

Have you met leaders from other political outfits apart from the BJP?

In 2005, we met Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu for the first time. (Prabhu has now joined the BJP). He was very much impressed by our proposal. He also suggested some important points and when he became a minister in the Modi cabinet. Both Prabhu and Gadkari have encouraged us a lot as I am from Maharashtra. Both the leaders have been helping me and my NGO Arthkranti Pratishtan a lot.

We have also met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and many other Congress leaders as well. Rahul listened carefully to me and my team and then advised us to meet the Congress Core Group ahead of the Lok Sabha election in 2014.

We have met all leaders from all major parties on the issue of freeing India of black money. But without a hint the PM did an outstanding job. He showed courage. It’s not a small thing to take such a historic decision. This decision is no less than a major surgery done on a patient.

Did Rahul Gandhi give you enough time?

I really don’t want to indulge in a blame game that Rahul Gandhi gave us less time whereas Modi gave us time more than 10 times than it was actually allotted for us.

How strong is Arthkranti Pratishtan?

There are primary 10 to 15 members of Arthkranti Pratishtan when it was launched in 2000. Now there are lakhs of accountants, engineered and other highly qualified youths who have joined us.

NCP MLA Jitendra Ahwad drags Arnab Goswami, Times Now into Rs 100 cr defamation suit

Mumbai: Indian Army’s surgical strikes conducted on 29 September this year across the Line of Control are long over but the after-effects of the military action are still on albeit outside the battlefield.

Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami (L) and NCP MLA Jitendra Ahwad.Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami (L) and NCP MLA Jitendra Ahwad.

Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami (L) and NCP MLA Jitendra Ahwad.

This time around Nationalist Congress Party MLA from Maharashtra’s Kalwa-Mumbra constituency Jitendra Awhad has sent a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against Times Now editor–in-chief Arnab Goswami among others for allegedly using “uncivilized” and “uncouth” language on The Newshour Debate programme.

The debate was aired at 9 pm on 6 October to discuss Rahul Gandhi Crossed The Line With ‘Khoon Ki Dalali’ Comment.

Accusing Goswami of “casting wild and baseless aspersions” “which have severely harmed my client’s (Jitendra Awhad) impeccable reputation” and blaming the channel of starting a “hate campaign” against Ahwad, the notice sought the channel “withdraw the defamatory statements.”

The notice sent by Ahwad through his lawyer Prashant B Kadam asked Goswami and others mentioned to “tender unconditional apology on your programme ‘The Newshour Debate’ telecast live on Times Now as well as on your website, within 7 days from the receipt of this notice” failing which a suit for damages amounting Rs 100 crore would be filed in a court of law. Firstpost has a copy of the notice.

Apart from Goswami, the notice was also sent to Times Now bureau chief Megha Prasad, Times Now chief executive officer Avinash Kaul, Times Global Broadcasting Co. Ltd chief executive officer Sunil Lulla and to Times Global Broadcasting Co. Ltd.

Claiming that Awhad “is a prominent citizen of Thane, having been in public life for more than two decades”, the notice said that Goswami, who anchored the debate “unleashed verbal deluge of accusations… without any reason” on the legislator during the course of the discussion.

Awhad through his lawyer said that despite being invited to participate in the live television show, he was not given the chance to respond to a query on a certain comment made by NCP chief Sharad Pawar on the surgical strikes.

“… my client (Jitendra Awhad) was ready and eager to give appropriate answer to your question but even before my client (Jitendra Awhad) could respond and reply, you no. 1 (Arnab Goswami) cut short my client…,” the notice said.

The notice said that Goswami “had some sort of preconceived grudge against my client (Jitendra Awhad) therefore you (Arnab Goswami) chose to forbid my client (Jitendra Awhad) from speaking his views and instead attempted to intimidate by hurling accusations and abusive words at my client (Jitendra Awhad).”

Talking to Firstpost, Awhad said, “Arnab is a liar. He never allows others to speak. How can he always insult the guest who he asks to come for his show? He has repeatedly insulted people hiding under the banner of the Times group. He always shows that he is right and all others are wrong. Arnab has always insulted the guest and so in order to teach him a lesson I have sent him a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against him and the channel too. He abused me in his live show. I will not let this issue down. How can Arnab throw labels on me like ‘uncouth’ and ‘uncivilized’? Does he have the authority to do this?”

Speaking from Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 6 October, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “playing with the blood of soldiers”, in reference to the Indian Army’s 29 September surgical strikes.

While referring to the surgical strikes, he said that “humare jawan hai jinhone khoon diya hai, jinhone surgical strikes kiya, unke khoon ke peeche aap (Modi) chuppe huye hai (Our soldiers conducted surgical strikes and gave their blood. Modi is just hiding behind their sacrifices),” he said. “Unki aap dalali kar rahe ho (You are brokering them),” Gandhi added, while telling Modi that the Indian Army has done its work and he should do his.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil row: No law and order problem during movie screening, Mumbai police chief tells Firstpost

Even as there have been threats and protests by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to ban Karan Johar’s film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which were later called off, security has been tightened in Mumbai and around cinemas and theatres across the country as the movie released on Friday. However, Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar has assured that the movie would see a smooth release without any law and order problem.

Speaking exclusively to Firstpost, Datta Padsalgikar said, “I assure that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil will be released smoothly today. There were tensions initially, but we have made sure that we maintain law and order. We already provided adequate security to multiplexes and single screen theatres in Mumbai.

Poster of Karan Johar film 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil'.

Poster of Karan Johar film ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’.

“Mumbaikars can watch the movie without any fear and enjoy Diwali. I am personally monitoring that there are no issues in ADHM’s screening in theatres. If anyone needs security or encounters any problem, they can get in touch with Mumbai police. They will certainly help,” Padsalgikar said.

“CM Devendra Fadnavis has already instructed us and we have deployed enough security in Mumbai. We have even spoken to Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association and have assured them adequate security will be provided to them,” Padsalgikar added.

“Many would want to watch the movie during this festive season and they should be able to enjoy it without any tension. Mumbai Police will make sure that the 1.40 crore Mumbaikar would be able to watch it without tension and fear,” the police chief said.

Earlier this month, in a move to boycott Pakistani artistes from working in India, Raj Thackeray-led MNS asserted that they would not let Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (which features Fawad Khan in a cameo) and Raees (which marks the Bollywood debut of Mahira Khan) release in India, or be screened in theatres. The group warned that any filmmaker who defied their diktat would be beaten up.

Following which Ae Dil Hai Mushkil director Karan Johar said that he would stick to his release plan, even as certain distributors and theatre owners were against it, citing their safety. On 18 October, the MNS intensified its plans and issued an indirect threat of vandalism to the multiplexes if they screened the movie.

Meanwhile, there was some tension in Jabalpur and Delhi over the screening of ADHM. According to Hindi publication Pradesh 18, Hindu Parishad activists barged inside a movie theatre in Jabalpur to stop its screening. Post this, the 9 am show was cancelled.

Similarly, in Gwalior, workers from a Hindu organisation barged into a multiplex to stop the screening of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. 

Sambhaji Brigade supporters staged an agitation outside Sarvoday Mall in Kalyan. Sambhaji Brigade, like Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), has been opposing the inclusion of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in the movie.

The MNS had called off its agitation days before the release of the movie. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had then approached party chief Raj Thackeray and Karan Johar at his Varsha Bungalow for a compromise.

Captured sepoy Chandu’s family waits for his return to complete last rites of grandmother

Mumbai: It’s not always that the arrest of a family member in a foreign soil is celebrated, but for Chandu Babulal Chavan’s family it’s been a matter of great joy. The reason simply being that till Thursday, his family had no clarity on Chandu’s whereabouts, or whether or not he was alive.

Chandu Babulal Chavan with his family. Image courtesy: Bhushan Chavan

Chandu Babulal Chavan with his family. Image courtesy: Bhushan Chavan

“We had doubts that he may actually not be alive. But Pakistan’s confirmation that Chandu is in their custody has given us new hope. We pray to God for his safe return. He will definitely come back. We are relaxed and very happy,” said Bhushan Chavan, Chandu’s elder brother while speaking with the Firstpost from Dhule.

A sepoy with the 37 Rashtriya Rifles, Chandu had gone missing since September 29, the same night when India carried out surgical strikes inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) destroying several terrorist stations. The 22-year-old had crossed the border near India-Pakistan line of control in Mendhar district of Jammu and Kashmir.

As reported in Firtpost, Pakistan DGMO on Thursday had finally confirmed of Chandu’s arrest. Islamabad was informed about the soldier’s movement on the hotline by India’s Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, according to an Army release issued by the Defence Ministry.

The news of Chandu’s disappearance had brought a great pain to his family. His mother-in-law, Lillabai Patil couldn’t bear the news and died of heart attack. “She couldn’t bear the news of Chandu’s disappearance,” said Chavan. The family carried out the cremation in Gujarat, they are waiting for Chandu’s return to finish the last rites of throwing her ashes in water.

Born in Borvihir village in the Pachora taluka of Dhule district in Maharashtra, Chandu is the youngest of the three siblings. “Chandu lost his mother and father in childhood, and his grandmother raised them together,” said a close relative. Chandu has a sister named Rupali.

Talking exclusively with Firstpost on Friday, Chavan, 27, who is also in the Army (9th Maratha Light Infantry in Gujarat) sounded happy and thankful to the government for its efforts. “Both Minister of State, Defense, Dr Subhash Bhamre and Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar are giving us all support. My brother Chandu will be back before Diwali. My fingers are crossed,” said, who is currently posted in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

Chandu joined the Indian Army in 2012. He was posted in Jammu and Kashmir in June 2016. “We are a small and happy family. Chandu was coming to meet us on 20 September, but the Uri attack canceled all soldier’s leaves. I spoke to him on 28 September before he crossed the LOC,” Bhushan told Firstpost.

Chandu’s family has been in talks with Bhamre, who had also helped them meet foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday.

Devendra Fadnavis announces sops to pacify Marathas: An astute move by Maharashtra CM

The BJP-led government in Maharashtra is facing a serious problem with lakhs taking part in the silent march, as part of the state-wide mobilisation by Marathas, demanding reservation in jobs and education

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is busy trying to resolve the tension in Maharashtra. To prevent the Maratha community from agitating further, CM Fadnavis announced a fee concession and a reimbursement scheme for students belonging to the Economically Backward Classes (EBC), whose annual income is less than Rs 6 lakh per annum. It is supposed to benefit more than 7 lakh students with a burden of Rs 700 crore on the state government. With the civic and zilla parishad elections around the corner, CM Fadnavis’ announcement is a smart move on his part to announce the increasing of EBC limits, which will benefit all castes, including Marathas and Brahmins.

The total population of Maharashtra is over 12 crore and the Maratha community makes up 40 percent of it.

File photo of Devendra Fadnavis. AFPFile photo of Devendra Fadnavis. AFP

File photo of Devendra Fadnavis. AFP

Addressing a unscheduled press conference after the cabinet meeting, CM Fadnavis announced the ‘Rajashri Shahu Maharaj Fee Pratipurti Yojna’. Earlier, for SC/ST students, the Maharashtra government had given a 100 percent fee waiver, whereas OBC students received a 50 percent fee waiver. But the new scheme has been extended to all students of all castes. The income limits of their parents is Rs 6 lakh per annum and it applies to those who have secured 60 percent marks at the time of college admission in HSC. Those who come under the income limit of upto Rs. 2.5 lakhs annually have no condition of marks, Fadnavis said. This will benefit those applying for professional and higher education courses, which include medicine and engineering.

This comes at the same time that Fadnavis announced two more schemes. The Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Crop Subsidy Scheme will benefit marginal farmers and children of registered labourers. In city limits, the government will bear the burden of Rs 30,000 annually, and Rs 20,000 annually in the rural area. The Fadnavis government has also decided to implement the Pandit Dindayal Upadhyay Swayam Yojana which will benefit tribal students and provide the hostel and food facilities. In the city, it will cost Rs 6,000 per month, in the districts Rs 5,000 per month and in the taluks, Rs 4000 per month.

Talking to the media, Fadnavis described the decisions as historic. “We are making a provision of Rs 1,000 crore this year; the budgetary provision will be done later. In the last 20 years, education has become a business in the state and it is difficult for the common man to get admission,” he said. Is the government positive about giving the Marathas reservation? Fadnavis said that his government was firm on giving reservation to Marathas and that they are not demanding the repeal of the Atrocity Act but want it to stop being misused.

The additional burden on the state government is approximately Rs 700 crore and 7.10 lakh students after Class 12 will reap the benefits. The earlier burden of the SC, ST and OBC students in fee concession and scholarship was Rs 1,300 crore. Which means that the total burden on government is Rs 2,000 crore, which will be benefited by 17 lakh students, said Education Minister Vinod Tawde. In addition, for medical students who come under the income limit from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh, the state government will pay the full interest on educational loan. It will benefit 35,000 students in government colleges and three lakh in private colleges, Tawde added. The benefits of the new schemes will start from this academic year with the retrospective method and the fees will be returned by the college authority to those who have already paid. But the required documents that certify an annual income below Rs 6 lakh must be certified by the tehsildar, Tawde added.

Tawde also assured that the BJP government will submit 74 documentary evidences to prove that the Maratha community has been socially and economically backward in an affidavit in the next hearing in court. The government is positive that the court will allow Maratha reservation in the frame of law, he said.

Last week, Fadnavis also announced a Rs 49,000 crore package for the Marathwada region in the special cabinet meeting at Aurangabad. The zilla parishad, nagar panchyayat and muncipal council elections will be held from the last week of November till the year end. The 10 municipal corporation elections will be held in February 2017, which include Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi, Ulhasnagar, Pune, Pimpari Chinchwad, Akola and Solapur. To offset the damage of the statewide Maratha morcha, Fadnavis first announced the Rs 49,000 crore package to the Marathwada region. To soothe the anger of the community, he then announced the Rs 6 lakh creamy layer scholarship facility to all students belonging to the EBC.

Meanwhile, NCP President Sharad Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday asking for Maratha reservation without diluting the quota of other communities. This has put pressure on Fadnavis; hence the announcement of the EBC scheme.

The Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh national general secretary Rajendra Kondhare, who is also one of the organisers of the silent morcha, has welcomed Fadnavis’ decision saying that it benefits all castes under the EBC category. Now the deadlock exists with the state government: there are remaining demands by the Marathas such as reservation in jobs, promotions on merit, amendment in the Atrocity Act and fixed rate cards for agriculture products.

Were Nashik protests the trigger for Fadnavis to intervene in the Maratha issue?

Following the Kopardi incident three months — wherein a 14-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered — the BJP-Shiv Sena government is being forced to intervene in a law and order-related situation. It is the growing seriousness of the case — both politically and from the perspective of law and order — as well as the Nashik incident that has forced Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to personally address the situation.

File image of Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

File image of Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

The Nashik incident that saw a five-year-old girl — who was playing with her sister near a temple at Trimbakeshwar — being raped by a 15-year-old in a dilapidated structure behind the temple. Later, a violent mob resorted to stone-pelting. The girl was rushed to the Ghoti Nashik Civil Hospital, following which members of the Maratha community came together outside the hospital and turned violent. State transport and government vehicles were set ablaze and their tyres were slashed. The result of this was that the Mumbai-Agra Highway was blocked on Sunday for over 12 hours.

The situations was eventually under control, but to avoid the spreading of rumours, the government banned internet and mobile data services for the next 48 hours. The minister for state (Home) Deepak Kesarkar issued an appeal to all to maintain law and order. The 15-year-old accused is already under arrest and the chargesheet will be filed in 15 days. As in Kopardi, the case will be handled by the fast-track court and special public prosecute Advocate Ujjwal Nikam will be leading both. As a precautionary measure, schools in the Nashik region were shut on Monday.

In the wake of the Kopardi incident, Fadnavis provided assurances that a chargesheet would be filed within a month and that the case would be transferred to a fast-track court. However, the chargesheet was only filed last Friday — nearly three months since the incident — and the fast-track trial is yet to commence.

It’s worth noting that while the Maratha silent morchas in 24 districts were very orderly affairs with no slogan-shouting or public property damage, it was the violent Nashik incident that immediately drew the attention of Fadnavis and other senior ministers.

The Maratha silent morcha began across the state over the course of the past two months across the state, but the state government appeared to be taking the issue too lightly. And until the time the government entered the fray, Maratha youths — largely from the rural parts of the state — were quite upset with Fadnavis and his cabinet. The first silent Maratha morcha was held in Aurangabad on 9 August and at the time of writing, 24 districts have reportedly seen lakhs of Maratha supporters take to the street to demand Maratha reservation and an amendment to the SC/ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act.

Mumbai potholes: Raj Thackeray dares BMC engineers to quit, says thousands waiting for jobs

Mumbai: Potholes in Mumbai are fast transforming into a political potpourri with two corporators from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) openly brandishing their hooliganism on a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) chief engineer, albeit all for public good.

MNS president Raj Thackeray. FirstpostMNS president Raj Thackeray. Firstpost

MNS president Raj Thackeray. Firstpost

But MNS president Raj Thackeray remains unfazed over the high-handedness by his party leaders.

“Let all engineers who are responsible for potholes resign. There are thousands of engineers who are without a job. They will get the benefit of a job in the BMC. Nobody can pressurise me,” Thackeray told Firstpost in an exclusive interview at his Dadar residence Krishnakunj.

Firmly backing his corporators, Thackeray ruled out any possibility of dilution of their stand.

“I support what my corporators did. Everywhere there are potholes and nobody is bothered. If the engineers file a case against MNS corporators let them do so. But I appeal to each and every Mumbaikar and my party workers to file cases against these engineers at all the 93 police stations in 24 wards. We will show the strength of the party and once for all. The 1.40 crore Mumbaikars know who are the responsible for potholes on the roads and their health problems,” he said.

Mocking the mass resignation, the MNS chief said that the engineers are merely doing stunts.

“They are employees of the BMC and not members of any political party. They should behave like employees of the BMC. As a common man and party chief, I should know that who is responsible for potholes and shoddy work on the roads. It is my right to know, who is actually responsible for potholes,” he said.

Daring the engineers, the MNS president said, “If all the BMC engineers come together to show their unity, they should realise that all the Mumbaikars can come together and file cases against the BMC for potholes.”

“The BMC Commissioner, four additional commissioners, 12 deputy municipality commissioners, 24 assistant commissioners and thousands of engineers are taking daily updates on the potholes. The ruling parties (Shiv Sena and BJP) and the standing committee passed the tender to get them repaired. But the contractors are doing a shoddy job and the potholes are still there. Then we have to know who is responsible for the potholes,” Thackeray said.

The MNS head did not even spare the media.

“In every kilometre, you will find minimum 50 potholes and the BMC said in written statement that only 36 potholes remain. Is this a joke? And the media is asking us why we have misbehaved with BMC employee and contractors,” Thackeray said.

Demanding that there should be transparency in the tendering process, he said, “Let BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta come forward and say who are responsible for potholes. He should also name those corporators and the political leaders who pressurise him to get the tenders passed. As a result, we end up having bad roads. Once and for all the truth should come out.”

Seeking that the blame game should end, Thackeray said that there should be accountability for these bad roads and the engineers cannot escape from their responsibilities.

“Every year the BMC spends more than Rs 2,000 crore for concretising roads and filling potholes. Are the engineers not ashamed when their own vehicles pass over these potholes or when their parents have to travel on them? The engineers should introspect as he or she is answerable for his or her own work,” the MNS chief said.

On Wednesday, BMC, chief engineer (road) Sanjay Darade was allegedly misbehaved by two MNS corporators Sandip Deshpande and Santosh Dhuri who dragged him out of his office and forced him to hold a placard taking responsibility for the potholes in the city’s Dadar locality.

The incident incensed 1,200 BMC engineers who met BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta after Darade did and offered their resignation protesting the indecent behaviour. On Thursday, engineers from the civic body under the banner of Brihanmumbai Municipal Engineers Union were led by its president Sainath Rajadhyaksha, protested against the politicians after stopping their work at BMC office in Worli.

The BMC Commissioner, however, didn’t accept the joint resignation letter and assured that action will be taken.

Mehta even took up the issue with Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar. Following that the Shivaji Park police called Darade to record his statement and registered a FIR against Deshpande and Dhuri under Section 341 (wrongful restraint), 506 (criminal intimidation) and Section 34 (common intention) of the IPC.

The two are yet to be arrested.

Although he did not give any detail, Thackeray made it clear that post-Diwali the MNS will take up many issues.

Meanwhile, Dadar corporator Deshpande maintained a brave stand and showed little remorse for his actions.

“I am ready to face anything. I did no wrong. If the police arrest me I am not taking bail till all the potholes are filled up,”he said.

Deshpande and Dhuri met Thackeray on the course of action ahead. But for now, the law is yet to catch up with them.

Mumbai potholes: BMC claims only 36 of them remain, political parties calls it a joke

Mumbai: Until the potholes became the unannounced navigational tool on how you drive on the roads of India’s financial capital, monsoon was a bliss for a parched Mumbai taking care of its water woes. So severe has the issue become that the potholes soon turned out to be a number game among the political parties, civic body and citizens depending on their appearance, disappearance and reappearance.

Image of a Mumbai road filled wih potholes. Screengrab from IBN-Live videoImage of a Mumbai road filled wih potholes. Screengrab from IBN-Live video

Image of a Mumbai road filled wih potholes. Screengrab from IBN-Live video

The irony is although the monsoon is now at its ebb, the potholes still remain despite a bold claim by a senior official of The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that only 36 of them exists in 24 wards. A little math on the number would show that only one or one and a half potholes in each of the 24 wards now are left to be filled up.

Potholes on Mumbai roads took such a political magnitude that even the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had to step in. A couple of weeks back he directed BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta to get them repaired and report back. Even if the Shiv Sena and the BJP are ruling the BMC together for the last 20 years, the potholed roads managed to even crack the trust they have in each other. Ahead of the BMC polls, which are scheduled in February next year, the BJP fearing a political backlash because of the potholed roads squarely blamed its partner Shiv Sena for the mess. Both the parties are however facing each other this time instead of tying up. Notwithstanding the political fallout, both the parties have jointly spent a whopping Rs 15,000 crore from the exchequer in the last 20 years for concretising roads and treating potholes.

The Shiv Sena-controlled standing committee, which clears the majority of the road tenders worth crores, is still to find a permanent solution to the pothole menace. The BMC boasts of a massive Rs 32,000 annual budget, the largest in the country for a civic body. Despite the dizzying figure in its yearly budget, the truth is out the total road length 1,940 km only 50 percent are concrete.

According to a BMC report on pothole status released on 29 September, out of 4,599 potholes, 4,563 of them were already attended to while only 36 of them remain to be addressed. When additional municipal commissioner IS Kundan read out the report in the standing committee meeting, parties reacted angrily with some even calling it ludicrous.

Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh told Firstpost that it was absolutely shameless on the part of the senior official. “How can she read out such a false report in the meeting? Most of the stretches on any road are filled up with potholes. One can see a minimum of 36 potholes even in one road,” Shaikh said.

Shiv Sena corporator Surendra Bagalkar was also shocked by the 36 potholes statistics.

“BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta instructed each of the additional municipal commissioners to go on the field and inspect the condition of the roads in their respective areas — City, Western and Eastern suburb. Following this instruction if any additional commissioner comes out from his or her car and walk for five minutes below the BMC headquarters, he or she can see more than 36 potholes,” Bagalkar said.

Opposition leader Pravin Chheda also expressed ire on the astounding statistics on the status of potholes on Mumbai roads.

“Even after opposition parties including the Congress, NCP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena staged walkouts and agitated on the potholes no results came out. The situation of the roads did not improve and now the administration is saying there are only 36 potholes. It is a joke of the day,” Chheda told Firstpost.

Corporators allege that the contractors are using substandard material to fill up the potholes and as soon as it rains it gets washed away.

“We know the potholes are increasing and the engineers are trying their best to fill them up. But the definition of potholes is not the same among all engineers,” a senior BMC official told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity.

Talking to Firstpost, chief engineer (road), Sanjay Darade told that the potholes counting by every ward engineer. “They send us a report of every ward and we compiled of 24 wards. It is true that compiling the report till 29th September only 36 potholes are remaining from ward wise report. But we once again asked them to recheck and send the report within a week,” he said.

RTI activist Anil Galgali also expressed unhappiness with the manner the potholes issue is being tackled by the authorities.

“The Chief Minister interfered late in this issue.  Both BMC and MMRDA are responsible for the potholes in Mumbai,” said Galgali.

Maratha morchas: Challenge for Devendra Fadnavis as lawyer vows to defend activist Sanjiv Bhor

Mumbai: Even as tension is quietly brewing in Maharashtra over the Maratha silent morchas, a show cause notice to the movement’s leader Sanjiv Bhor from the Ahmednagar police might push the state into a complicated law and order situation.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

After around two months since the Maratha Kranti silent morchas were successfully carried out across 24 districts in the state, the government is now gearing up to prevent a similar march in the future.

What could worry the state government is that the Marathas are not willing to give up the agitation anytime soon unless their demands are fulfilled.

An engineer by training, Bhor (42) left his job in 2009 and embarked on a social mission to educate his community on the alleged misuse of the Atrocity Act against them. A former member of the Sambhaji Brigade, he later went on to found the Shivprahar Sanghtan as became its founder president.

Bhor is already in the headlines by naming all the four alleged rape accused suspected to be behind the heinous crime that happened on 13 July at Kopardi in Ahmednagar. The incident was so barbaric that a Firstpost piece quoting The Asian Age said the victim was a ninth standard girl and her body was badly mutilated.

In the show cause sent to Bhor, the police sought to know why the Shivprahar Sanghtan president should not be banned from the six districts of Ahmednagar, Pune, Solapur, Beed, Aurangabad and Nashik. The notice has put a huge question mark on the silent morchas.

The notice stated that his presence in these districts could create a serious “law-and-order problem”, “threaten communal harmony and national integration”. Bhor, who is a strong advocate seeking reservation for Marathas has sought capital punishment for the accused in the Kopardi gangrape and murder case.

Talking to Firstpost, Bhor confirmed that he received the show cause notice signed by Ahmednagar, assistant police superintendent, Chinmay Patil.

“Despite such notice, the state government cannot end the Maratha silent March. I am ready to face anything for my community. I already replied to the notice and I will challenge it,” Bhor said. “The next hearing before the magistrate is on 17 October. Police fear that if I stayed in any of these six districts then there might be law and order problem,” he said.

The Shivprahar Sanghtan president said that all the offences which the police labelled against him are two years old and two offences were registered in last three months. All these offences are related to agitation and damage to public property.

The notice pointed out that Bhor had organised meetings without the consent of the authority and blamed him for causing social disharmony by creating a rift between the SC/ST and upper caste community.

Bhor also criticised the role of the mainstream media while covering the Maratha agitation.

Well known lawyer Satish Maneshinde has even threatened to challenge the government in the courts and is ready to fight for Bhor and other activists who find themselves in similar circumstances without charging any fee.

Talking to Firstpost, Maneshinde said that there was neither violence and nor any issue related to public hygiene as mentioned in the show cause.

“There was no traffic problem as well. But I heard that Ahmednagar police sent a show cause notice to Bhor. This is illegal. How can the police send a notice?” Maneshinde questioned. “Is he a criminal or doing any criminal activity? So I decided that whenever the cases on such brave activists will come I will fight against the government free of cost across the state. Even I am from the same community. Does the Devendra Fadnavis government want to rule the state like Gujarat?” he asked.

To calm down tempers, Chief Minister Fadnavis has decided to call a one-day special session to discuss reservation for the Maratha community and review the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Meanwhile, the next morcha is scheduled on 15 October in Kolhapur while the Mumbai one is planned after Diwali and before the commencement of the Winter Session of the Assembly.

“The government is under immense pressure to handle the demands of Maratha community,” said a senior IAS official unwilling to be named.

Shiv Sena unity broken by Saamana cartoon: Spot the irony here

It’s ironic. The party was formed and united by cartoons, but now, the party appears to be on the verge of a breakdown because of a cartoon. The Shiv Sena was born from a weekly cartoon magazine called Marmik. Party founder and supremo for many decades Bal Thackeray was known to the world through his cartoons. But now the Shiv Sena is in trouble for publishing a cartoon in its mouthpiece Saamana.

In the years gone by, the Shiv Sena — it could be said — stretched the limits of Freedom of Expression when taking down its targets through cartoons. But, this is the first time the Maratha community has demanded an apology from Saamana executive editor Sanjay Raut and Sena president-cum-Saamana editor Uddhav Thackeray for publishing a cartoon that hurt the sentiments of the community.

The cartoon published by Saamana. Image courtesy: Twitter

The cartoon published by Saamana. Image courtesy: Twitter

The Sena on Wednesday published an apology by its cartoonist Ravindra Prabhudesai, after the Saamana office in Navi Mumbai was pelted with stones over a cartoon published. But now, the Maratha Kranti Morcha organisers want apologies from Raut and Uddhav. Published on the front page page of Saamana‘s Wednesday edition, Prabhudesai’s apology read: “There was no intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments. The controversy over the cartoon is unnecessary. I am an artist and not a political cartoonist. The issue was made political and some people attempted to drag the Shiv Sena as well as Saamana into it and therefore, I am issuing this clarification.”

“With great humility, I would like to state that I did not wish to hurt the sentiments of any community; I apologise for that,” Prabhudesai continued, adding, “In a busy life, my intention is put a smile on people’s face. That’s why I make cartoons.”

Speaking to Firstpost, a senior journalist from the Pudhari newspaper Uday Tanpathak suggested it was a case of chickens coming home to roost. “The cartoon published in Saamana was in bad taste. It hurts people’s sentiments. It’s not only the Maratha Morcha remark in the cartoon, I am very hurt by the remark against martyrs (referring to the frame wherein a cop looks at a dead soldier and says “Something’s amiss. This soldier died as a result of dengue and not a terror attack”). It’s below the belt. Nobody thinks this way about our soldiers. The Sena never respects the Freedom of Expression of others,” he added, “Also a leader like Pramod Mahajan used to ask Bal Thackeray to caricature him, now nobody wants any cartoons on any political leader,” he said.

A cartoonist and senior journalist with Lokmat Sandip Pradhan said that in the current situation, this type of cartoon cannot be published. “The silent morcha has been organised by the Maratha community and it damages the law-and-order situation. It’s interesting that earlier it was the Sena attacking media houses and now others are attacking Saamana office,” he added. Of 63 Sena MLAs, 38 are from the Maratha community and are under pressure to resign (from members of their own community). “There are internal politics within the Sena and due to this, a section of Sena leaders want an apology from Raut. This has united Raut’s rivals,” added Pradhan.

Sources in the Shiv Sena said Raut had refused to tender an apology and that was why Maratha Sena leader Subhash Desai issued a press note about the cartoon. Desai blamed the Congress and the NCP for what he said was fuelling the ongoing pro-reservation agitation among Marathas all over the state.”They ruled the state for 15 years, but did nothing for Maratha reservation. They created a farce of reservation, which was later struck down by the courts,” he said.

Desai added that Uddhav has fully supported the ongoing Maratha agitation and even Raut had backed it through his writings in Saamana, but elements like (Opposition leaders) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Dhananjay Munde are spoiling the peaceful atmosphere in the state.

In the years gone by, the Shiv Sena — it could be said — stretched the limits of Freedom of Expression when taking down its targets through cartoons

Incidentally, three youths on Tuesday arrived in a vehicle at the Saamana printing press building located in Sanpada in Navi Mumbai, and allegedly pelted it with stones and fled. Shiv Sena’s office in Navi Mumbai was also attacked by the workers of Sambhaji Brigade, a Maratha outfit. Commissioner of police (Navi Mumbai) Hemant Nagrale told Firstpost, “An incident of stone-pelting was reported at the Saamana office, Sanpada, where two or three windows have been damaged.”

“An offence is being registered against the culprits. Investigations will be conducted and appropriate action will be taken against the accused. Pursuant to the incident of stone-pelting at the Saamana office in Sanpada, an offence has been registered vide CR No 140/2016, U/S 336,427 of IPC against Shrikrushna Sawant, Amol Jadhavrao, Manojdada Aakhre, Purushottam Khedkar, office-bearers of the Sambhaji Brigade and others,” said Nagrale and added, “The said attack is purported to condemn the article in Saamana, with damage worth Rs 30,000 caused. An investigation being conducted and accused will be arrested soon.”

Maratha Kranti Morcha owes its success to social media, not mainstream media

After Independence in India, the Maratha Kranti Morcha is the largest silent protest by the Maratha community. It is being appreciated across the nation because of its discipline, cleanness and the absence of any of the nonsense seen in other agitations like those conducted by the Jats, Gurjars and Patels. Marathas make up nearly 35 percent of Maharashtra’s population of 12 crore and of the states 288 MLA, 145 are Marathas.

Every community has the constitutional right to hold protests, marches etc if they have some demands. The Maratha marches for the past three weeks (and four subsequent weeks) will cover almost 18 districts. In each district, the average number of eight lakh Marathas taking to the street includes children, collegians, women, workers and senior citizens.

Maratha community members holding a protest rally demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim, at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai last Wednesday. PTI

Maratha community members holding a protest rally demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim, at CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai last Wednesday. PTI

Over the past few weeks, many have been asking about the march and wondering who is behind the march. More than any political motive, the real reason for lakhs of Marathas to take to the streets is their anger over the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl on 13 July. In the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, a girl from the Maratha community was raped and tortured to death by three to four drunk people.

The incident was not covered by the mainstream media for some time. This led the youth from Kopardi as well as Nagar districts to go public about the incident on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Angry social media posts went viral and a mob immediately gathered, leading the local police to swing into action and arrest the culprits within 24 hours. But by then, details of the incident had already gone viral across state boundaries, and youths from many parts of the state gathered to support the family.

“The first silent march was started in Aurangabad and other parts of Marathawada, however no one bothered to report this protest. The news was initially published only by a couple of vernacular media outlets, but prominent wings of the media (including television channels, Mumbai-based English and Marathi newspapers) completely ignored the march. However, we had anticipated that the traditional Brahminical media would not report the matter, so we have focused on social media to connect with the Maratha community and mobilise it. We formed several WhatsApp groups and created Facebook pages to send the message to maximum people. Today, with pride, I can say all Marathas — not only those from Maharashtra, but from across the globe are connected via this WhatsApp group. This is a big revolution. The majority of the community never come together and felt pride about themselves, but WhatsApp has changed our community’s traditional mindset. This is a period of churn and we hope all good things will happen henceforth,” said Bhaiya Patil, a social media expert

Ours is a silent protest. No slogans and speeches at all. We are not against any caste or region. We do not want to snatch anyone’s right. We are fighting for our rights in a silent and non-violent way

Liladhar Patil, a Maratha Seva Sangh officer-in-charge for north Maharashtra elaborated on the importance of social media to the march. Speaking to Firstpost, Liladhar Patil said that in order to direct the people, they made a trained activist the admin of the group and he used to upload real-time photos and drone images of the protest. “Besides, we wrote songs and other informative messages that helped to rouse the people to participate in the movement voluntarily,” he said.

“We do not rely on the traditional media, which is biased and wants to divide the community. Initially, they said that the Maratha morcha was against Dalits. When that failed, they said it was against OBCs. Now they are saying it’s against the Brahmins. The traditional media only wants negative news. Therefore, we are also keeping distance from them. Now, we are focusing on opening thousands of Twitter accounts and requesting people to post morcha photos and videos, and then tag the prime minister and chief minister so as to create a larger impact. We want to see the Maratha Kranti Morcha trend worldwide on Twitter,” he added.

maratha-agitation_400

Meanwhile, Maratha youth Satish Chavan from Jogeshwari in Mumbai said, “We hope the media does fair and factual reporting. They should not set the false ‘Maratha versus Dalit’, ‘Maratha versus OBC’ and ‘Maratha versus Brahmin’ narrative. Ours is a silent protest. No slogans and speeches at all. We are not against any caste or region. We do not want to snatch anyone’s right. We are fighting for our rights in a silent and non-violent way. People might have seen many protests, but the Maratha protest is unique in all forms and methods. History will remember these protests.”

A senior journalist and analyst Sanjay Miskin confirmed to Firstpost that the Kopardi incident was highlighted by social media, and until social media posts went viral, mainstream media had remained mum. The first protest in Aurangabad was disciplined, patient and non-violent. After three or four lakh members of the Maratha community joined the march, social media took the lead, he added. “Due to the advent of smartphones, it is easy to gather lakhs of people in one place. So while Kopardi is the cause, the real connection among the community is social media,” said Miskin.

The date and timing of the Mumbai morcha will be announced soon, said a Maratha youth from Dadar. A meeting will be held to chalk out the strategy and planning on 30 September at Shivaji Mandir in Dadar, he added.

More trouble for Kapil Sharma: Comedian could face five years’ jail for destroying mangroves

Comedian Kapil Sharma is looking at a possible jail sentence of five years and/or payment of Rs 1 lakh as surety if found guilty in a case registered against him, for destroying mangroves near his Versova bungalow.

The case was filed on the basis of a complaint from the Andheri tehsildar’s office, which stated that Sharma had illegally dumped debris and made unauthorised additions to the Versova property, leading to the destruction of protected mangroves.

Kapil Sharma. Image from IBN LiveKapil Sharma. Image from IBN Live

Kapil Sharma. Image from News 18

Spokesperson for the Mumbai Police DCP Ashok Dudhe told Firstpost on Tuesday, 20 September, “Prima facie, Kapil Sharma was found guilty of cutting (down) mangroves. So we registered a case against Kapil under Section 15 (1)(2) of the Environment Act. The investigation is currently going on.”

Bungalow number 71 at the Four Bungalows area in Andheri (West) was purchased by Kapil Sharma on 7 November 2015. Sharma then allegedly carried out the illegal alterations to the property.

Mumbai suburban district collector Deependra Singh Kushwah had directed officials to conduct a survey to find if Sharma had violated the Environment Act by dumping debris near the mangroves. After the survey, a complaint was filed at the Versova police station.

The probe was ordered days after Sharma’s tweet dated 9 September alleging that he had been asked for a bribe of Rs 5 lakh by officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to regularise the construction of his office space, went viral. Sharma had tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his tweet as well, asking: “Yeh hain aapke ache din?

While Sharma was initially hailed for calling out corruption, the tide quickly turned against the former Comedy Nights host when civic officials stated that he had made several illegal additions to his properties in Oshiwara and Versova.

Over the next few days, Sharma was facing cases for the illegal construction at the apartment he owns in Oshiwara’s DLH Enclave (Kapil reportedly sold the flat a few months ago, but the alterations were made before that), for flouting Coastal Regulatory Zone norms by carrying out unauthorised alterations at his Versova bungalow, and several political parties were threatening to boycott his TV show if he didn’t name the civic officials who allegedly demanded the bribe.

Last week, the Oshiwara police registered a case against Sharma under Section 53 (7) of the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, for the illegal constructions at his flat in the DLH high rise based on a complaint by a BMC official. (Cases were also registered against actor Irrfan Khan and a few other flat owners in the same building.) If found guilty, Sharma could be facing jail time between one month to three years, a Times of India article said.

Reports state that Sharma has been trying to set up a meeting with Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, to preempt any action that may be taken against him. He even sought the help of actor Vivek Oberoi, who is known to be close to Fadnavis, in order to get an appointment with the CM.

However, Fadnavis has not responded to Sharma’s overtures thus far, perhaps as a result of being criticised for his prompt response to Sharma’s 9 September tweet, without waiting for clarification from civic officials.

Kapil Sharma did not respond to Firstpost’s requests for a comment at the time of publishing this report. Calls and messages to Sharma’s phone went unanswered.

— With inputs from PTI

Ambedkar brothers are ‘gundas’, want to grab land: Ratnakar Gaikwad to Firstpost

The demolition of Dadar’s historic Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Bhavan in the early hours of Saturday morning has turned into a major controversy over the past four days. Former IAS officer and state information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad — who is also an advisor to the People’s Improvement Trust (PIT) — has alleged that the Ambedkar’s grandsons are known for their ‘gundagiri’. Here is the interview he gave Firstpost:

Why was the historic Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Bhavan demolished so late at night?
Gaikwad: The society was founded by Dr Ambedkar. The trust said that the building was dilapidated and that the civic body had given an eviction notice before the demolition took place. It is a 72-year-old dilapidated structure. The timing is not important. It was an old dilapidated structure. On that night, a portion of the structure had collapsed after which it was decided to demolished it in the early hours to avoid any incident. The building was dilapidated and the civic body had given an eviction notice before the demolition took place.

File image of Ratnakar Gaikwad

File image of Ratnakar Gaikwad. Image procured from MMRDA by Sanjay Sawant

After the demolition of the dilapidated structure, what will be built on this land?
Gaikwad: Ambedkar Bhavan has been demolished as it had become dilapidated and the BMC had given notice to the trust under section 354. The construction of a new and grand 17-floor building will begin soon. This will be the central headquarters for weaker sections of society, as desired by Dr Ambedkar. Most of the funding is from the government. The BMC has approved plans for a new building recently. The chief minister performed the bhoomipujan on 14 April and called upon the trust to complete construction within two years.

Why are you apposing Dr Ambedkar’s grandson in the PIT Trust?
Gaikwad: Dr Ambedkar was always clear in his mind that his family members could not interred in the property or trust belonging to him. The members of the Ambedkar family were debarred from the trust long ago. According to a 1957 letter, Dr Ambedkar himself wrote to his son Yashwant, ousting him from the trust. He had made it clear that the printing press was public property. So I am doing my job as an advisor to fulfil his wish. They (the grandsons, Prakash, Anandraj and Bhimrao) want to usurp the property and are opposing the development that was Dr Ambedkar’s dream.

What is Dr Ambedkar’s grandson’s interest in the building?
Gaikwad: Dr Ambedkar had taken the plot at Dadar for the central headquarters of the anti-caste movement and not for a printing press. The printing press was in another area and due to some tension there, it was shifted to the Dadar plot. We want to fulfil his dream.

You alleged that the three brothers Prakash, Anandraj and Bhimrao want separate floors for themselves in the new 17-storey building. Could you elaborate on that?
Gaikwad: The PIT, a 17-storey structure with multi-level parking and other facilities will be constructed at the site at the cost of Rs 60 crore. The main opposition to the demolition of the dilapidated building came from Prakash Ambedkar. He wants to be the trustee of the trust and his brothers Anandraj and Bhimrao want separate floors for each of themselves.

The allegation against you is that you have destroyed the legacy of Dr Ambedkar. Would you like to comment?
Gaikwad: I have not destroyed the legacy of the great Dr Ambedkar, but his own grandsons do not deserve it. The Ambedkar brothers (Prakash, Anandraj) are known for ‘gundagiri’. I want to fulfil the wish of Dr Ambedkar that none of his family members would be entitled to the trust. They want to grab the land and I will not tolerate this.

What about the fact that your name appeared on an FIR at Bhoiwada police station for demolishing Ambedkar Bhavan?
Gaikwad: Let them (the Ambedkar brothers) do what they want to do. I am not selfish like them and not scared of them. I am loyal to Ambedkar thoughts and philosophy. The law will take action if I did wrong. I know that they are putting pressure on people to arrange this agitation against me. I have full faith in the police and judiciary.

Eknath Khadse out? His fate rests firmly in Devendra Fadnavis’ hands

Eknath Khadse, a prominent leader of the BJP in Maharashtra and the number two in cabinet, will lose his ministry following repeated allegations of corruption and his alleged telephonic conversation with fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim. Party sources confirmed that after a series of allegations against senior most minister about corruption Khadse may loose his berth in cabinet or an important portfolio like the Revenue Ministry.

Meanwhile Khadse met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday evening for around 40 minutes. Fadnavis has come out in support of Khadse in the past, but it appears the MIDC land case might be a little different. The internal meeting saw the minister being questioned on “why he was interested in seeking land marked for the MIDC”, according to a party insider.

The details of the meet have not been disclosed yet, but party insiders said that of the 12 departments Khadse heads, the most prominent one and the one he is most likely to lose is the revenue department. A decision is to be taken after the Rajya Sabha and Council election which is to be held on 10 June.

Among the latest of the corruption allegations against Khadse is the complaint filed by builder Hemant Gawande against the revenue minister, his wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhari, alleging that they bought a three-acre plot of MIDC land in Bhosari for a mere Rs 3.75 crore. Speaking to mediapersons in Pune, Gawande said, “The land was sold to Khadse in his wife and son-in-law’s name by one Abbas Ukani for Rs 3.75 crore. However, the actual value of the land is more than Rs 80 crore higher than that value.” He added, “”I waited for MIDC officials to take action against Khadse. But, since there was no action from any government agency, I decided to approach the police and filed a complaint at Bund Garden police station on Monday.”

File image of Eknath Khadse. PTI

File image of Eknath Khadse. PTI

Khadse, on his part, dismissed all the allegations saying, “The land at Bhosari MIDC is not in the hands of the MIDC. It belonged to a private owner and I have all the records in possession to show that the land is a private plot and not owned by government. Gawande is making all these baseless allegations. I am open to any inquiry and the police should carry out a thorough investigation in this case.” Far from being cowed down, he added, “I am not going to fall prey to these blackmailers’ tactics. I feel that a thorough probe should be carried out by the police in the present case.”

But that’s not all. There’s also the matter of the multi-crore irrigation scam in which Khadse also finds himself embroiled.

Social worker Anjali Damania — who has alleged that contracts given by the Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation (TIDC) are given to contractors that are close to him — said that she will be handing over all documents to the Anti-Corruption Bureau that is investigating the irrigation scam. She said that projects that are unfeasible and not required have all been allotted to contractors that are patronised by Khadse. Explaining the modus operandi on how the Khadse family receives kickbacks from these contractors, Damania said that the sugar company in which Khadse, his wife, his daughter Rohini and son-in-law Pranjal Khewalkar are all directors, was owned by two contractors who have received several contracts from the TIDC.

She has also demanded that Fadnavis launch an immediate inquiry against Khadse. “We will give Fadnavis 48 hours to take action on the corrupt minister, otherwise we will stage a protest outside his official residence, the Varsha bungalow, on Wednesday,” Damania told Firstpost, adding, “We are also following the case of Khadse’s son-in-law’s Hyundai Sonata vehicle that is not registered in the state.”

The BJP has so far, been countering Damania’s allegation, with state spokesperson Madhav Bhandari saying, “These are mere allegations and are baseless.”

The Opposition in the state (including the Congress and NCP) has meanwhile demanded that Khadse be sacked. The BJP’s own ally, the Shiv Sena has also been sending out feelers that Khadse be sacked, with industry minister and Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai asking for a detailed inquiry into the land-grabbing case.

Khadse’s woes, however, don’t end with corruption allegations.

The Aam Aadmi Party had recently demanded the ouster of Khadse, alleging that calls were made from Dawood’s residence in Karachi to the revenue minister’s mobile phone — a charge Khadse had rubbished as “baseless”, adding that the phone number had not been in use for the past year.

What next?

Like the Opposition, alliance-members and party office-bearers also want Khadse’s removal, said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity. But in Maharashtra, it appears caste politics are pressurising Fadnavis against taking action. Fadnavis is from the Brahmin community, while Khadse belongs to the Levedar Patil community, which is part of the OBC list. After Gopinath Munde’s death, there is no senior OBC leader like Khadse in the party. While in the past, Maratha strongman and education minister Vinod Tawde and another OBC face Pankaja Munde Palwe also faced corruption allegations, they were both in the race to become chief minister.

But within a year, there have been corruption allegations against both of them as also against Khadse, said party insiders.

Khadse’s alleged involvement in these cases has put the BJP in a tricky position. Despite the party’s image in the state taking a beating over Khadse’s involvement, reports had earlier said that CM Fadnavis will be reluctant to act against the revenue minister because the controversial minister is a Jalgaon strongman and enjoys a support base in the district.

According to a source in Delhi, BJP president Amit Shah was believed to have sent an indirect message to Khadse to remain quiet and desist from making statements to the media. Also, he is believed to have said that Fadnavis should take action on the allegations against Khadse. Sources also confirms that till Fadnavis takes action against Khadse, cabinet extension will not be green-lit by the party.

The fate of Khadse is in Fadnavis’ hands.

Will he expelled from the cabinet or merely relieved of some key portfolios like Revenue and Excise?

Wait and watch.

For now, as per his schedule for Tuesday, Khadse will not be attending cabinet at 11 am at Mantralaya. Instead, he will be in his constituency of Muktainagar, Jalgaon for the entire day.

With inputs from PTI

Heat on Eknath Khadse after Mumbai Police begins probe on mysterious Dawood calls

Mumbai: Mumbai Police on Saturday said that it would rope in ethical hacker Manish Bhangale to probe into alleged telephonic conversations between Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse and gangster Dawood Ibrahim.

Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse. PTIMaharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse. PTI

Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse. PTI

The investigations began after Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asked the police to get into the bottom of the matter on getting a letter from the Aam Aadmi Party on the alleged exchanges. The matter came to light after Bhangale could trace the calls from Dawood’s residence in Pakistan.

“The hacker had even sent the information to the Prime Minister’s Office but no Central agency seems to have any interest in actually locating the most wanted terrorist and criminal Dawood Ibrahim. Despite the fact that he is the most wanted man in Maharashtra, and that a Maharashtra leader’s name figured in the list, no agency from Maharashtra had contacted the hacker. When AAP wrote to the chief minister he instructed Mumbai Police to begin an investigation,” AAP spokesperson Preeti Menon told Firstpost.

On Friday, Khadse said that he urged Fadnavis to probe the allegations that telephonic exchanges happened between the minister and the don. The minister apparently requested Fadnavis to inquire into the issue as he suspects someone hacked his phone and used it illegally.

“I am not using that number anymore and have acquired the call detail records which show that there is no international call on that number. But yet I have asked Fadnavis to inquire into the issue as I suspect someone may have hacked my number. It is a serious issue,” Khadse told Firstpost.

In a release issued later in the day on Saturday, the minister said, “AAP spokesperson Priti Menon’s allegation of calls from my mobile number to Dawood Ibrahim is baseless. The number which she is saying—9423073667—belongs to me and I have not been using it since a year. There is a possibility that my number was cloned and someone talked to Dawood in Pakistan. So I have request the chief minister and the Jalgaon superintendent of police to ensure a detailed enquiry in this issue.”

The probe has picked up pace after the minister’s demand.

The Maharashtra revenue minister is already mired with controversies after his aide Gajanan Patil was recently arrested by the Anti-corruption Bureau and his son-in-law was found to be driving illegally modified Hyundai Sonata vehicle.

Khadse also served a legal notice to social worker and activist Anjali Damania for allegedly making false charges against him over disproportionate assets. The notice blamed Damania for dragging his son-in-law over the illegally modified car.

Damania’s allegations had came following the Patil’s arrest for allegedly seeking a Rs 30 crore as bribe over a land deal from economist Ramesh Jadhav.

“Khadse’s son-in-law Manish Khevalkar owns a Hyundai Sonata, registered with Jalgaon RTO, which has been converted into a limousine. Khevalkar has modified the car without seeking permission from the RTO,” Damania said.

Reacting to the social activist, Khadse said, “She has levelled baseless charges of corruption and highhandedness against me and my family without having a shred of proof and also made defamatory statements and so we have sent her a notice asking for explanation. We will wait for her to apologise or else take action.”

Talking to Firstpost, Damania said, “Eknath Khadse has sent me a legal notice. I have not still received it. It has been first forwarded to media who have sent it to me on WhatsApp. I am quite happy to get it, as it is a great opportunity for me to systematically show all documents which I have got from all over Maharashtra. I refuse to give a reply, but will wait for him to file a defamation case. Anyway, I am not bothered for legal notice.”

Although the probe has started into the phone call issue, the AAP is not quite hopeful of a positive outcome.

“From previous instances it is very clear that in Maharashtra in cases related to Pankaja Munde, Vinod Tawde and Ekanth Khadse himself, that this state government will not act against corruption in its own ministries or ask them to resign,” Menon said.

The AAP spokesperson even met the chief minister demanding Khadse’s resignation.

The topic also figured in the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Fadnavis on Wednesday.

Senior BJP leaders, however, admitted the call issue is a matter of concern.

“Khadse is the seniormost leader of the party and considered the second-in-command in the ministerial council after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. If his name gets dragged in such a controversy, we have a reason to worry,” said a senior party leader on condition of anonymity.

Two other BJP ministers—Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde and Education Minister Vinod Tawde—were also in the dock over allegations of irregularities.

“Fadnavis has briefed the PM about the political situation in the state,” said a senior BJP leader.

The Maharashtra revenue minister is now hoping that his long association with the BJP will be his saving grace.

“I have given 40 years of my life to the party. I have come this far because of the faith of the party leadership,” Khadse said.

The Union home ministry has meanwhile asked the state agencies to go deep into the matter and submit a report, said a senior Mumbai Police official in know of the matter.

Buckle up, Mumbai! Pillion-riders without helmets will face action from today

If you own a two-wheeler, make sure you buy an additional helmet for the pillion-rider immediately.

The Maharashtra government is all set to implement the rule in the state capital and is no mood to compromise the safety of riders and pillion riders. The Mumbai traffic police are cracking the whip on two-wheeler riders  and pillion riders who do not wear helmets while riding on the Mumbai roads. The transport department and the traffic police of Mumbai will start a special drive from Friday (29 April)  to implement the government’s new notification on traffic violations.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Helmets have been made mandatory for pillion riders and people caught without them will be sent to a two-hour seminar on traffic rules. The same goes for those caught driving without a seat belt and penalty fine of Rs 100. The special drive started across Mumbai from 29 April, 2016, said police inspector (planning) Shreeram Koregaonkar. The special drive will be continue in Mumbai region in the future as well.

Not to mention that “penalties too will be levied for violating traffic rules”, said transport minister Diwakar Raote. ” Action will also be taken against those who ride two-wheelers making more noise than permitted.” The stipulations on drink-driving are stringent. The traffic police will not only suspend the license of anyone caught driving after a tipple, but also register a case against the person. Even for a first offence, the police will appeal in court for a jail term.

The notification, issued on 31 December, mentions other violations like plying overloaded vehicles and using vehicles meant for carrying goods as passenger vehicles. More than thirty teams will be stationed in Mumbai to suspend driving licenses on the spot for traffic violations like speeding, jumping signal, drink-driving and talking on a mobile phone while driving. The period of suspension will be three months.

Talking to Firstpost, Joint commissioner (traffic) Milind Bharambe said the drive was to sound off a strong warning to the drivers. “We will enforce the new government resolution (GR) soon and these drives are being carried out to send a warning to violators before they face harsh punishment. We are extremely serious about ensuring that no one rides a two-wheeler without a helmet,” he said. “We were waiting for the exams to get over, so now today (Friday) onwards, helmets are mandatory for pillion riders as well in Mumbai. Otherwise, they will face action.”

One has to mention the terrific job being done by the Mumbai Traffic Police in trying to control motorcyclists and improve the traffic in general.  “The traffic Police will create awareness on the need to wear helmets during the counseling. This is only for people’s safety,” said Joint Police Commissioner (Traffic) Milind Bharambe.

Meanwhile, all traffic divisions have been specifically asked to conduct drives and book those not wearing helmets. The city police’s help has also been sought where there is a shortage of staff. “We have already booked 30 people in just half an hour for not wearing helmets. Because of the drive in the next few days, the number of people wearing helmets has increased,” said a traffic cop from Dadar.

However, not everyone is convinced about the efficacy of the drive. People say that making helmets compulsory for pillion riders is a far-fetched idea, given that the traffic police have not been able to enforce the rule making it mandatory for motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

Read the fine for traffic violations here.

The order

A copy of the the order signed by police inspector Shriram Koregaonkar on behalf of the joint commissioner of police (traffic) Milind Bharambe

Marathwada’s drought: Shirpur, Jal Biradari projects show impact of small local initiatives

In a state where large but ineffective state projects and weak water management laws have combined to exacerbate the effects of drought, a clutch of activists, hydrologists and village leaders have begun to explore the prospect of implementing small, cost-effective water conservation efforts to beat the scarcity. Firstpost examined two such projects – the so called Shirpur Pattern of Development, and Rashtriya Jal Biradari’s river revival scheme – that appear to have worked.

A water conservation system in Shirpur. Photo courtesy: Amrish Patel

A water conservation system in Shirpur. Photo courtesy: Amrish Patel

A model study

In the middle of severe water crisis in Maharashtra, there is one taluka that is water tanker-free. Every house, agricultural field and industry in Shirpur, Dhule district have water.

Shirpur takula, in the north of Maharashtra and close to Nandurbar and Jalgaon, has been given the moniker of ‘Green Taluka.’ Why the name?

Shirpur which was otherwise an obscure town has become a case study now. Local Congress MLC Amrish Patel came up with now popularly known as the ‘Shipur Pattern of Development.’ Fourteen years back, troubled by the acute water crisis in Shirpur, Patel wanted to use rainwater conservation methods and construct small dams to meet the water demands of the taluka.

While most places in Marathwada have parched lands and dry water taps, farmers in Shirpur boast of cultivating not one, but three to four crops in a year. During April-May, cultivating cotton is considered to be a risk as it requires a lot of water, but in Shirpur, the story is different. The farmers start sowing cotton seeds towards end of April, even before the arrival of monsoon.

Water tankers are seen frequently in the nearby taluka of Sindkheda, Chopada and Amalner. Even Jalgaon district, from where Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse and Water Conservation Minister Girish Mahajan district come from, is not free from water woes.

Like most places in Marathwada, Shirpur too is not unfamiliar with water shortage. The area receives an

average rainfall of around 650mm with most of the rainwater draining into Tapi river. Amrish Patel with the help of geologist Suresh Khanapurkar devised a plan to trap this rainwater. Patel and Khanapurkar organized an 11-member team and started building cement check dams around nullahs.

Groundwater which was found 500 to 700 feet deep is now just 100 feet away.

The project was not entirely unopposed. Initially, farmers were apprehensive of allowing the team to build cement walls, but when they realized that there was no vested interest, they came forward to help us, said Patel.

Congress MLC Amrish Patel

Congress MLC Amrish Patel

Check dams have been built by government agencies all over the state, but most them have failed to achieve the objective. In Shirpur, the dams have water till March. What makes the Shirpur Pattern work?

Explaining the construction of these dams, Khanapurkar told Firstpost, “In 81.20 percent of the state, Deccan basalt rock lies below the top soil. This rocky layer is impermeable and not much water percolates down. Below this layer lies Murrum (red gravel), which holds water and this can be drawn from wells and borewells.”

What Khanapurkar and his team did was remove the rocky layer, so that water percolates into murrum. “The nullahs were also widened as more the volume of water, more is the pressure it exerts on soil,” said Khanapurkar.

After the rocky layer was removed, the streams were deepened by at least 20 feet. Small ‘door-less’ concrete dams were constructed. He explained that the weirs (water blocking walls on streams) do not have gates, so the water flows downstream only after the dam is full.

“The volume of water that percolates down in this method is eight times the storage capacity of a check dam. I call this angioplasty of streams, as it recharges the groundwater by removing obstructions through pressure,” he said. The geologist stressed that the old methods of water conservation won’t work because of the change in rainfall pattern.

In 2004, Khanapurkar was posted as the senior geologist of Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) in Dhule. Patel, who was then a minister, asked Khanapurkar to quit his job and work for him. Khanapurkar was just six months away from retirement.

“On the last day of my work, Amrishbhai called me up again and renewed his offer. I imposed all sorts of difficult conditions, but he agreed to them all. Today, I regret being so difficult,” said an emotional Khanapurkar.

While Khanapurkar gave the technical know-how, Patel set aside Rs 3 crore every year for the project.

Their combination paid off and brought 80% of the land in the 60 villages of Shirpur taluka under irrigation. Activists like Medha Patkar, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, NCP MP Supriya Sule have visited Shirpur to study the model.

In fact, in November last year, Raghunandan Lahoti, a businessman from Jalna, along with his friends attended a one-day workshop conducted by Khanapurkar. Impressed by the workshop, he traveled to Shirpur along with his wife and son to understand the pattern better. Later, he constructed eight cement dams in Jalna, saving a huge amount of water.

Talking about the advantages, Patel said, “There is no need to displace people. The capital cost is low. So far, we have built 91 check dams with an expenditure of Rs 20 crore and total water conserved is 600 million cubic feet (mcf). The cost to build a medium-sized dam is Rs 80 crore.”

He has set a target of building 20 check dams every year. “Each village should have a check dam,and surface and groundwater storage should be enough to meet the drinking and agricultural needs for three years,” he added.

Most farmers in Shirpur testified to the fact that their income has increased significantly because of this model.

Geologist Suresh Khanapurkar

Geologist Suresh Khanapurkar

Suman Dhonde, a farmer from Godi village near Shirpur, told Firstpost, “After a check dam was built, there has been a two-fold increase in my income. The groundwater level in borewell increased. I can plant the second crop even when rainfall was not adequate.”

Another farmer from Shirpur, Vijay Patil considers himself lucky. “Four months after I purchased the farm, they dug up the nearby nullah and water level in the borewell went up. Unfortunately, two years of below average rainfall has dried up the nullah or I could have gone for the third crop,” he said.

Interestingly, idea of the Shirpur Pattern came from a farmer in Wanjari. “We were surveying a stream in the village, when Sardar Wanjari asked about our work. He told me point-blank that I would not succeed in increasing groundwater level unless I dug up the stream. Back home, after making several calculations, I arrived at the same conclusion,” said Khanapurkar.

Earlier, labourers from north Maharashtra went to Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh looking for daily wage jobs, but now they go to Shirpur.

Shantisagar Jadhav, a farmer from Bhatpura village and his joint family has a 15-acre land. His share is six acres. “Thanks to the Shirpur Pattern, I have cultivated three crops – cotton, wheat and lady finger. Now, I am self-employed and my annual income is around Rs 5 lakh. I make a profit of Rs 2 lakh. MLC Patel is like a god to us,” said Jadhav.

Patel expressed his disappointment regarding the state government not implementing the Shirpur Pattern. He wants the state government to focus on quality educational institutions, hospitals, and job creation.
“I wanted to give back to the society. I am thankful to all whose standard of living has improved due to water conservation efforts in this region,”said Patel.

The impact has been tremendous. Of the 160 villages in the taluka, 100 villages have adopted the Shirpur Pattern. “It’s a man-made drought. There is no need to build big dams. Water should be arrested in the nullah so that the water level increases,” explained Khanapurkar.

He pointed out the state government’s Jalyukta Shivar was being handled by the agriculture department, but it needs the technical expertise of geologists and civil engineers. It’s a waste of money and energy too, he added.

Khanapurkar said that the whole system of water conservation needs a complete overhaul. The total cost of building one cement wall is Rs 14 lakh. “Currently, the government sanctions funds for only building the weir, but not for digging. Secondly, this is a technical work. It will have to be done by machines and cannot be undertaken under the employment guarantee scheme (EGS). Moreover, the agriculture department should not be allowed to build check dams. They don’t have a single civil engineer.”

Revival of rivers

Away from Shirpur, Rashtriya Jal Biradari (RJB), an independent network of volunteers, spearheaded by well-known water conservationist Rajendra Singh, has been concentrating on reviving dried up rivers in Marathwada.

In the last couple of years, Singh has been part of watershed management projects across Marathwada. He has worked alongside NGOs, farmers and research groups that contribute by funding, bringing manpower and resources for stream widening and water harvesting.

Osmanabad district’s Kalamb taluka had received 200-215mm rainfall for just four days last year. In February 2015, the RJB surveyed about 10 villages in the taluka and watershed projects were undertaken.

Suneel Joshi, head of RJB’s Maharashtra division, said, “It is an ongoing project, where we have dug up nullahs. We are hoping for a good monsoon so that the nullahs will be able to retain rainwater, which in turn will benefit Osmanabad.”

Singh, who also an advisor for Jalyukta Shivar, told Firstpost, “The drought situation is really bad and water should be carefully managed. There is not enough groundwater or surface water. Marathwada wouldn’t have faced this drought, if the region had enough reservoirs. If the state can have reserve police and food in case of contingency, then why can’t it reserve water to help the distressed people during drought?”

Three years back, Ranjani village in Osmanabad which had adopted a water revival method under Singh’s guidance, is now benefiting from the technique as rainwater, however little, was retained, said Joshi.

So far, the RJB and villagers have effectively revived rivers like Agrani in Sangli and Mann in drought-prone Satara district.

The group’s ongoing projects include revival of Godavari in Parbhani’s Dharasur village, which has completely dried up. In Latur’s Ausa taluka, Singh along with Pasha Patel, member of the Legislative Council, were able to rejuvenate Tavaraja and Terana rivers in about 70 villages. A project to revive Holna river in Beed district’s Ambejogai taluka has been undertaken with the help of NGO Manav Lok under their drought-relief programme. Also, in Deglur, locals collaborated to widen and deepen a 7.5-8 kilometre-long stream under the project.

Marathwada-logo

“We are not depending on the state for these projects. We got tremendous response and support from the people once they saw the results of our efforts. Our next strategy is to chalk out a plan for the village as a whole and based on that we will focus how we can effectively use our resources,” Joshi said.

An independent collaborative effort with almost 14,500 farmers’ clubs being formed and revival projects undertaken in across all the eight districts in Maarathwada can reflect results; all the region needs is a good monsoon.

With inputs from Shraddha Ghatge

This is the ninth segment of a 13-part series on Marathwada’s drought.

Part 10: Why debt-ridden farmers are deemed the least credit worthy

Read the previous parts of the series here:
Part 1: Region is parched, impoverished and desperate, but it’s a crisis of its own making
Part 2: In the midst of severe economic downturn, private water sellers reap profits in Latur
Part 3: Drought has brought the economy down and is forcing farmers to leave the region
Part 4: Water scarcity has created a region where trust has eroded and left the social fabric frayed
Part 5: Maha has the most dams in the country, but the least effective irrigation network
Part 6: A surveyor of suicides tells the story behind the statistics and the lonely struggle of Indian farmers
Part 7: Will outreach help reduce farmer suicides?
Part 8: ‘Toothless’ laws lead to water exploitation

BMC short film starring Akshay Kumar stuck in tussle between Uddhav Thackeray, CM Fadnavis

Not many of us know that Airlift star Akshay Kumar has been doing social work regularly without talking about it to the media.

Recently, he shot a short film on the risks of hyper tension and high BP without charging a rupee. However, before it could see the light of day, the politics behind the film got in the way. A BMC health scheme was supposed to start operating from 7 April, which is also World Health Day, along with a screening of the film, but now its inauguration will happen only from May, sources have confirmed.

Sources from BMC have additionally revealed that the health department has found increased symptoms of high BP and hyper tension in Mumbai. Youth between the age group of 25 to 40 years have the above stated symptoms due to a fast-paced lifestyle and preference of junk food. Almost 30 % of Mumbai’s youth suffer from High BP and hyper tension. The short film helmed by Akshay Kumar highlights these issues.

Akshay Kumar. Image from ReutersAkshay Kumar. Image from Reuters

Akshay Kumar. Image from Reuters

Not only has Kumar not charged a single rupee from BMC, well-known director Rajkumar Hirani did four minutes of the film free of cost. The short film will be telecast in all theaters and channels starting May, even though it was originally supposed to be revealed on April 4, at Taj Lands End in Mumbai.

Sources close to Akshay confirmed the last minute changed the program, and it is also learnt that the actor will be flying abroad for his new film for three weeks. We attempted to reach Akshay Kumar but there was no response.

It is reportedly the unavailability of time from CM Devendra Fadanvis and Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeary which is the main reason for the ‘Jaan Bachao’ health campaign being postponed. Earlier, both leaders were ready for the inaguration on Monday 4 April, but then later stated that it was not suitable for them. Insiders have further revealed that the tussle between Sena and BJP has been increasing day by day and this is the reason why both leaders have avoided the same platform.

The spark between both the parties started after Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s remarks on Sunday, where he stated that the BJP is out to finish the Sena.

The BJP, on the other hand, is convinced that the Sena does not want the alliance to continue for the Mumbai civic polls and is paving way for a split ahead of 2017, even at the cost of the government crumbling. In fact, on Monday both parties decided to fight the elections in the city separately.

Talking to Firstpost, Additional Commissioner of BMC, Sanjay Deshmukh, who is in charge of the health department, said the the short film on youth lifestyle is postponed, but will be opened in due course of time.

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar is the latest celebrity to step forward and help the drought-struck farmers of Marathwada, after actor Nana Patekar established Naam Foundation. Kumar has pledged Rs 90 lakhs to the cause. Akshay has decided to contribute Rs 15 lakhs a month, for six consecutive months.

However, the tussle between the CM and Uddhav has resulted in Akshay’s short film for the BMC health campaign to be postponed by three weeks.

Cost of saving 350 trees is Rs 1,500 crore: Fadnavis warns that opposition to Metro car shed will cost Mumbai

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has sought the comfort of numbers to answer environmentalists and green activists opposing the state government’s plan of constructing a carshed for its Metro III train coaches at the Aarey Colony. After activists alleged that constructing the shed at Aarey Colony would result in 350 trees being cut, Fadnavis responded that the alternative would cost the state Rs 1,500 crore more.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Fadnavis told the state assembly on Friday that if the government’s plan of constructing the shed at Aarey Colony falls through, they would have to build one at Kanjurmarg, on the other side of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This would involve additional expenditure of Rs 1,500 crore, or, if 350 trees are to be saved, Rs 4.28 crore per tree.

Moreover, if the state is to spend more on constructing the Metro shed, the costs would be passed on to the commuters, Fadnavis has warned. By sacrificing 350 trees at the Aarey Colony, Mumbaikars would pay less to travel by the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor. “Either cut the trees or pay more for tickets,” he said, adding that the government would not only compensate for the trees which were cut but also plant 3,000 more trees.

He was responding to a discussion on the budgetary expenditure for urban development and home departments in the legislative assembly. He added that some of the opposition to the carshed plan was based on “misunderstandings and misgivings”. “It’s true that the original plan involved the hacking of 2,300 trees. But we have since revised the details and redesigned certain elements. The new plan would see the chopping of 350-500 trees now,” he added.

The alternative plan the state has in mind involves fallow land near the dumping ground at Kanjurmarg. Construction had already begun on this, but Fadnavis didn’t favour the option. “The land we identified is marshy. If we decide to build the carshed there, it would involve reclaiming this land. This itself would increase the input cost by Rs 1,500 crore. The hike would affect the overall project cost, which would then reflect in increased ticket prices,” Fadnavis said.

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya have been aggressively opposing using the Aarey Colony land for constructing the shed. The proposal has also met with resistance from green activists and local residents.

Also, lashing out at the Shiv Sena, Fadnavis said he wants to provide Mumbai with a world class transportation network before his tenure is over. “I am not a Mumbaikar. I will return to my home city Nagpur when I retire. But I want to create a Metro network in Mumbai with stations which are 500-metres apart. This would be an improvement on the current railway network, with stations 1-2 kms apart. So when I go back to Nagpur, I want people of Mumbai to realise that it was a Nagpur man who cared for the city,” he said.

Repeated opposition over using the Aarey Colony land for the Metro car shed project has delayed it by over two years. The original 2020 deadline has been revised to 2022 already.

World T20 semi-final: Maharashtra chief secy receiving 250 free passes takes centre stage at assembly proceedings

Firstpost’s report on the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) giving away 250 free passes for the ICC T20 World Cup Semi Finals to Maharashtra Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya dominated the proceedings at both the state legislative council and assembly on Thursday.

Congress MLC Sanjay Dutt raised the issue in the upper house asking where the free passes are and who its beneficiaries are.

Maharashtra Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya. Youtube

Maharashtra Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya. Youtube

However, Kshatriya denied in the house that his office received 250 free passes for the match. When Firstpost Bureau Chief Sanjay Sawant showed him the copy of the letter, which clearly mentions that 250 free passes of the match were sent to Kshatriya, the chief secretary quickly denied the allegations and said that the letter and the free passes for the match were for Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Clearing the air on the issue, Sports Minister Vinod Tawde categorically said that Kshatriya’s department has not received 250 passes rather only 5 passes. Giving a break-up of the passes, Tawde said, “Of the 250 passes, the Chief Minister’s office received 15; Opposition received 8; sports department received 15, all Minister of States received 2 each; other ministers 2 each; all secretaries, including principal sectary 2 each and Chief Secretary’s office received 5 passes.”

In the Maharashtra Assembly, Congress MLA Nitesh Rane too raised the issue. In response, Maharashtra assembly speaker Haribhau Bagade has said that he will investigate into the matter and make a statement in the House.

However, Firstpost has a copy of the letter, which clearly mentions that 250 free passes of the match were sent to Maharashtra Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya.

Mumbai Cricket Association: MCA

Reacting to the controversy, MCA vice-president Ashish Shelar said, “There is nothing wrong with what has happened in this case. Pursuant to a contract between the sports department and the MCA, passes are supposed to be sent to the sports department. However, earlier, it used to be sent to the chief secretary’s office. What has happened now is the correct practice.”

Read: World T20 India vs West Indies semi-final: Maharashtra chief secretary gets 250 passes free, leaves only 4,000 for the rest of Mumbai

The demand for tickets is as usual maddening and is expected only to soar higher. As soon as India sealed their spot at the World T20 semi-finals, the MCA office was bombarded with requests for tickets. People are expected to fly into Mumbai for the match from all around the world. While some have managed to bag tickets, others have arrived only with a flicker of hope.

“We are four and we follow the Indian team everywhere,” said a fan at the Wankhede Stadium and added, “But we have only three tickets and we’re looking for one more so that none of us miss the match.”

Time to go hands-free? Touching bar dancers could put you behind bars as per Maharashtra govt’s draft law

The Maharashtra government’s draft law to allow licences for dance bars will be a stringent one that includes a provision for six-months imprisonment and/or a penalty of Rs 50,000 on anyone touching bar dancers or throwing money at them. In a meeting led by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at Vidhan Bhavan on Tuesday, it was decided that the act would be considered a cognisable and non-bailable offence.

The chief minister has already formed a 25-member committee of all-party MLAs to review the draft of the new legislation. The committee was appointed after the Supreme Court rejected the state’s act to ban dance bars. In the meeting, a few rules were discussed that will be converted into a bill and be tabled in the House during the ongoing Budget Session for final approval.

Once the bill is approved, it will be converted into an Act and will be applicable across the state, said an official. According to the official, installing CCTVs at the entrance of dance bars and on the dance floor will be mandatory. The owner will have to keep the CCTV footage for up to 30 days.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In 2015, the Supreme Court had struck down a total ban on dance bars. While upholding the right of bar dancers to follow their profession, it directed the Maharashtra government to grant licenses to these establishments. The state had imposed a set of 26 conditions before allowing dance bars to operate. These stipulations were challenged by the dance bar association.

The state government, which is keen on ensuring that these bars do not reopen, is working on a legislation to prevent them from reopening. It has announced a committee of legislators from both Houses to finalise the law to work around the judgment. The first meeting of the committee, which was attended by Fadnavis, was held on Tuesday. The proposed bill seeks to maintain the dignity of women working in hotels, restaurants and bars and prevent their exploitation.

Commenting on this development, Varsha Kale from the Bar Girls Association, said that the dance bars in Mumbai will only open in phases and it will take some time before they are back on track. But the current recommendation by committee is very strict, she said. The state government seems determined to impose strict conditions while regulating dance bars in the state, some of which may be impossible to fulfill, she added. We will definitely oppose the guidelines recommended by the committee in the Supreme Court.

“Many women, prior to entering the profession of dancing, worked as domestic servants and agricultural laborers. Due to exploitation faced in other jobs, they came into dancing, exercising the option for safer and more secure work environment,” she added.

Incidentally, permit rooms and country liquor bars need to be located at a minimum of 75 metres from educational and religious institutions, while it is 50 metres for beer and wine shops. The draft has suggested that if the bar owner or operator allows a bar dancer to be exploited, he will be penalised Rs 10 lakh or imprisoned for three years or both.

In the new draft, a dance bar will not be allowed to stay open beyond 11.30 pm. Earlier, dance bars were allowed to remain open till 2 am.

It has also been suggested that three women security guards be posted, and women waiters and bar dancers be asked to stay on after 9.30 pm only with their consent. Vulgar dances or actions will not be allowed. The bar dancer will not be allowed to be scantily clad and dance bars will not be permitted within the periphery of one kilometre from educational institutes and places of worship.

If an illegal dance bar is found, the owner or operator will be liable for a fine of Rs 25 lakh and/or imprisonment for five years. The offence will be non-bailable and cognisable. The distance between the dance floor and the seating arrangement should be five feet and no person will be allowed to go to the dance floor, the draft has suggested. People who visit dance bars must be over 25 years and must have valid age and identity proof.

With inputs from agencies

Maharashtra MLA Amit Deshmukh goes ‘missing’ from arid Latur, residents left in the lurch

From:  Maharashtra MLA Amit Deshmukh goes ‘missing’ from arid Latur, residents left in the lurch

Divide Maharashtra into four states: RSS ideologue MG Vaidya backs Aney

It seems Maharashtra will soon go the same way as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The three states were divided while the BJP was in power there, whereas only Andhra Pradesh split into Telangana under Congress rule. Now in Maharashtra, where the BJP is in power, the RSS has joined the call for dividing the state and that too, into four parts.

Former advocate general Srihari Aney’s comments on Sunday, calling for statehood for Marathwada, has once again sparked calls for division of the state. Former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) spokesperson MG Vaidya jumped into the controversy by saying that he supports Aney’s statements.

“The ideal population of any state should be about three crore only for which smaller states are required. Maharashtra has a population of over 12 crore so it might be divided into four parts,” he said.

MG Vaidya. Image courtesy MG Vaidya's blog BhasyaMG Vaidya. Image courtesy MG Vaidya's blog Bhasya

MG Vaidya. Image courtesy MG Vaidya’s blog Bhasya

Talking to mediapersons in Nagpur he added, “One state should be Mumbai along with Konkan, Western Maharashtra can be a second state, Vidarbha the third state and Marathwada including north Maharashtra a fourth state called Devgiri. I strongly support AG Aney’s demand for separate Marathwada and Vidarbh. The government must set up a commission to carve out smaller states to ensure better governance and rapid progress of the people,” he added.

The resignation of Maharashtra’s Advocate General Shrihari Aney on Tuesday has given renewed voice to those advocating the creation of separate states of Vidarbha and Marathwada.

“Not only Congress, BJP too had supported the cause and adopted a resolution for creating smaller states like Vidarbha at the BJP national executive held in Bhubneshwar in 1996,” seven-time MP from Nagpur, Vilas Muttemwar told PTI on Tuesday. “Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had also supported the demand when they were in Opposition. The issue was raised even during the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 2014,” he said.

Muttemwar also came out in support of Aney, saying that the former advocate general did nothing wrong; his statements only echoed the sentiments of the people of both regions. “Aney belongs to a family who had all along supported Vidarbha. As an individual, he too was entitled to his views on separate Vidarbha and Marathwada,” Muttemwar, who turned 67 on Friday, said.

Aney reportedly said on Sunday at an event in Jalna, “Marathwada bore more injustice than Vidarbha and should therefore be independent. Pressure has to be put at the Delhi level to form a separate state as the demand does not come under the purview of Mumbai.”

The AG had earlier called for carving out a separate state of Vidarbha from Maharashtra. His comments in Jalna invited criticism from all political quarters, and there were calls that he be sacked. As the controversy raged, Aney himself stepped down from his post. He handed over his resignation to Maharashtra Governor CV Rao, while making it very clear publicly that neither Rao nor Fadnavis had asked him to do so. He stated that he quit on his own volition as it pertained to “conflict of duty” and concerned “institutional stability” as if he didn’t do so, the Assembly session would be disrupted.

Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan alleged that these types of tactics were a ploy to divert attention from the drought crisis.

Nitin Raut, former Maharashtra EGS Minister and three-time MLA from Dalit-dominated Nagpur (North), criticised those who are opposing Aney’s stand. Even Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had favoured statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada, Raut told Firstpost from Nagpur.

Dr Ambedkar had written in his book Thoughts on Linguistic States that a state will be strong when there is a sense of “fellow-feeling”. That fellow-feeling will come when all the people in a state speak the same language. He supported the “one language, one state” rule but also warned of its dangers, saying, “A linguistic State with its regional language as its official language may easily develop into an independent nationality. The road between an independent nationality and an independent State is very narrow. If this happens, India will cease to be Modern India we have and will become the medieval India consisting of a variety of States indulging in rivalry and warfare.”

Srihari Aney’s demand for separate Marathwada disrupts House, calls for AG’s suspension gain strength

Opposition parties and ruling Shiv Sena in both the Houses of the state legislature are demanding the resignation of Advocate General Shrihari Aney for remarks he made on Sunday in which he expressed support for the demands of separate statehood for Marathwada.

A ruckus ensued in both houses after Nitesh Rane, son of Congress MLA and former chief minister Narayan Rane, asked for Aney’s head on Twitter:

(When his head gets separated from his body, then he will know what it means to break up Maharashtra).

State government also indicated displeasure at the advocate general’s demands for a separate Marathwada. Leader of Opposition Dhananjay Munde demanded Aney’s suspension and tabled a discussion in the Legislative Council. Munde said that earlier, Aney has supported demands for a separate statehood for Vidarbha and now, he is supporting the demand for statehood for Marathwada “He should be suspended immediately. He can talk about his personal opinions after he is made to sit at home. He shouldn’t give his personal opinions when holding such an important post,” said Munde.

Shrihari Aney. PTI

MLC Kapil Patil said that Aney’s remarks are treason against the state. “Who has given him the right? Until the government suspends him, we will not let the Council function,” he said. The house was adjourned for 30 minutes after the Opposition created a ruckus on the floor of the house.

During a speech in Jalna on Sunday, Aney argued that Marathwada state was the need of the hour as it has suffered grave injustice. Both the houses were adjourned three times as the members wanted debate and immediate action against Aney. After the lower house assembled at 11 am, the leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil appealed to Speaker Haribhau Bagde to suspend question hour so that Aney’s remarks can be discussed.

Vikhe-Patil recalled that when Aney had openly supported separation of Vidarbha from Marathwada in 2015, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had termed it as his personal opinion. However, Vikhe-Patil demanded that the state’s first legal officer should not speak the language of separation of Maharashtra which was formed in 1960. It would be an insult of those 105 persons who died while fighting for Maharashtra’s independence. Nationalist Congress Party leader supported Vikhe-Patil’s demand and pressed for Aney’s resignation.

Shiv Sena member Pratap Sarnaik, who filed a privilege motion against Aney in 2015 over his support to statehood for Vidarbha, said the advocate general should not have made a speech recommending statehood for Marathwada especially when no one else had made a demand in this regard. Instead of keeping the interest of Maharashtra, the advocate general has been delivering speeches for its separation and the Sena would not tolerate it, he warned. Strongly condemning Aney’s remarks on separation, Environment Minister, Ramdas Kadam (Shiv Sena senior leader) said that it would not allow business to be conducted in the House till AG Aney is suspended. Shiv Sena Chief, Uddhav Thackeray expressed his resentment with Aney’s words and said that Sena ministers would not attend cabinet meetings till Aney is sacked.

Ganpatrao Deshmukh, a veteran leader of Peasants and Workers Party, also expressed serious displeasure over Aney’s proposal for Marathwada state and demanded his resignation or suspension by the government. NCP leader and former Assembly speaker Dilip Walse-Patil cited the Constitutional provision for the appointment and duties of the advocate general and demanded action against him.

In the past, Advocate General Shrihari Aney had said that he foresees the rise of more political units in Vidarbha seeking statehood, which could create problems for all political parties. “Unless it becomes a state, the problems cannot be addressed. And the Constitution, in Article Two and Three, has outlined steps on how states have to be created,” said Aney.

However, Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse said, “The state government does not agree with the AG’s stand on a separate Vidarbha and has given indication to take action against AG.”

Aney, who is six months into his assignment, is known for his legal acumen, conviction and ideology.

Aney, 65, took over from Sunil Manohar, a Nagpur-based senior lawyer who resigned in June 2015, seven months after he had taken over as AG. Born in 1950 in Pune, Aney completed his schooling in Jamshedpur (then in Bihar, now in Jharkhand). He later completed his BCom from Wadia College in Pune and then studied law at Indian Law Society’s Law School in Pune.

On Tuesday, Fadnavis will personally take a stand on the AG’s remarks in the House. But, speaking to reporters on Monday, the CM said, “AG should take government side in the court. He should show restraint while expressing personal opinions on a public platform.” BJP sources confirmed that CM has called upon a meeting with Aney in the evening.

Maha Attorney General Aney wants separate Marathwada: Congress wants his head, Opposition wants his suspension

Opposition parties and ruling Shiv Sena in both the Houses of the state legislature are demanding the resignation of Advocate General Shrihari Aney for remarks he made on Sunday in which he expressed support for the demands of separate statehood for Marathwada.

A ruckus ensued in both houses after Nitesh Rane, son of Congress MLA and former chief minister Narayan Rane, asked for Aney’s head on Twitter:

(When his head gets separated from his body, then he will know what it means to break up Maharashtra).

State government also indicated displeasure at the attorney general’s demands for a separate Marathwada. Leader of Opposition Dhananjay Munde demanded Aney’s suspension and tabled a discussion in the Legislative Council. Munde said that earlier, Aney has supported demands for a separate statehood for Vidarbha and now, he is supporting the demand for statehood for Marathwada “He should be suspended immediately. He can talk about his personal opinions after he is made to sit at home. He shouldn’t give his personal opinions when holding such an important post,” said Munde.

Shrihari Aney. PTI

MLC Kapil Patil said that Aney’s remarks are treason against the state. “Who has given him the right? Until the government suspends him, we will not let the Council function,” he said. The house was adjourned for 30 minutes after the Opposition created a ruckus on the floor of the house.

During a speech in Jalna on Sunday, Aney argued that Marathwada state was the need of the hour as it has suffered grave injustice. Both the houses were adjourned three times as the members wanted debate and immediate action against Aney. After the lower house assembled at 11 am, the leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil appealed to Speaker Haribhau Bagde to suspend question hour so that Aney’s remarks can be discussed.

Vikhe-Patil recalled that when Aney had openly supported separation of Vidarbha from Marathwada in 2015, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had termed it as his personal opinion. However, Vikhe-Patil demanded that the state’s first legal officer should not speak the language of separation of Maharashtra which was formed in 1960. It would be an insult of those 105 persons who died while fighting for Maharashtra’s independence. Nationalist Congress Party leader supported Vikhe-Patil’s demand and pressed for Aney’s resignation.

Shiv Sena member Pratap Sarnaik, who filed a privilege motion against Aney in 2015 over his support to statehood for Vidarbha, said the advocate general should not have made a speech recommending statehood for Marathwada especially when no one else had made a demand in this regard. Instead of keeping the interest of Maharashtra, the advocate general has been delivering speeches for its separation and the Sena would not tolerate it, he warned.

Ganpatrao Deshmukh, a veteran leader of Peasants and Workers Party, also expressed serious displeasure over Aney’s proposal for Marathwada state and demanded his resignation or suspension by the government. NCP leader and former Assembly speaker Dilip Walse-Patil cited the Constitutional provision for the appointment and duties of the advocate general and demanded action against him.

In the past, Advocate General Shrihari Aney had said that he foresees the rise of more political units in Vidarbha seeking statehood, which could create problems for all political parties. “Unless it becomes a state, the problems cannot be addressed. And the Constitution, in Article Two and Three, has outlined steps on how states have to be created,” said Aney.

However, Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse said, “The state government does not agree with the AG’s stand on a separate Vidarbha and has given indication to take action against AG.”

Aney, who is six months into his assignment, is known for his legal acumen, conviction and ideology.

Aney, 65, took over from Sunil Manohar, a Nagpur-based senior lawyer who resigned in June 2015, seven months after he had taken over as AG. Born in 1950 in Pune, Aney completed his schooling in Jamshedpur (then in Bihar, now in Jharkhand). He later completed his BCom from Wadia College in Pune and then studied law at Indian Law Society’s Law School in Pune.

On Tuesday, Fadnavis will personally take a stand on the AG’s remarks.

The fall and fall of Chhagan Bhujbal: The seven people who brought the NCP strongman down

After reaching dizzying heights in a career spanning four decades across political parties from Shiv Sena to Congress and finally to Nationalist Congress Party, former Maharashtra deputy chief minister and NCP strongman Chhagan Bhujbal (68) now finds himself perhaps in the most critical juncture of his journey.

Chhagan Bhujbal. PTIChhagan Bhujbal. PTI

Chhagan Bhujbal. PTI

The influential OBC leader was arrested on Monday under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) after the agency could establish the chain how the bogus deals and illicit funds funneled into the Bhujbal empire. Ironically, those who stood by him for all these years seemed to have turned bete noire as the business empire he had built so far stands on the verge of collapse.

From a nonentity existence as a street vegetable vendor to his tenure as the second-in-command at the Mantralaya in Mumbai, Bhujbal’s rapid rise to fame is a political folklore. During his rush to glory, he relied heavily on his nephew Sameer Bhujbal but the very pillar that supported him has now cut his roots. Sources said that Sameer’s statements to the probing agency nailed the controversial NCP leader landing him behind bars although Chhagan is claiming innocence saying Sameer was the brain behind all the illegal financial transactions. Sameer is already under custody.

The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) prescribes rigorous imprisonment from three years to seven years in case an individual is found guilty. Both NCP leaders will face action as per the provisions of the PMLA if they are convicted by a court of law, a senior ED official told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

According to the ED official, the arrest of the former public works department minister happened as he allegedly refused to cooperate during questioning. The agency has also recorded his statement in the case. The official said Chhagan was questioned for 10 hours before he was arrested. The NCP leader was produced in a Mumbai court on Tuesday which sent him to a two-day ED custody.

The ED sources said large amounts of cash, allegedly laundered with the help of hawala operators, was pumped into shell companies floated by his nephew Sameer and son Pankaj Bhujbal. ED sources said that they have tracked over a dozen Kolkata-based companies which bought shares in companies fully owned and controlled by Bhujbals.

Money was later channeled through various companies to start projects like the Hex World in Kharghar. It is also learnt that bribe amount may have been used to float these companies. Bhujbal is being investigated for alleged corruption in contracts awarded for the construction of the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. Other projects when he was at the helm of affairs at the public works department during the NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra have also come under the scanner.

The ED claims that part of the money allegedly received as kickbacks was parked abroad and routed into India through various shell companies located across the country.

Chhagan’s arrest is a setback to the party struggling to refurbish its public image after the major drubbing it received in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Already, two senior party leaders Ajit Pawar and state party chief Sunil Tatkare are facing investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in a number of irrigation projects to the tune of Rs 70,000 crore.

There is little doubt that the arrest of the Yewala legislator under charges of alleged graft would heavily dent his image particularly in Nasik putting an indelible stain on his position within the party and outside it. His image as the Other Backward Community face of the NCP also took a severe hit following his arrest.

“Party chief Sharad Pawar and all other members stand by Bhujbal in this hour of crisis. We are here in full strength to support him,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik, alleging that Chhagan Bhujbal is being “victimised.”

ChhaganBhujbalEmpireChhaganBhujbalEmpire

Social activist Anjali Damania said she was very happy that her efforts of four years against Chhagan Bhujbal’s alleged corruption has been paid off. AAP national spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon said, on 26 August 2013 the Aam Aadmi Party had filed complaints with detailed proof that Bhujbal, in his tenure as PWD minister, awarded contracts to builders and then received kickbacks.

“We gave detailed proof of every transaction in nine different cases, where kickbacks were received and money was laundered. None of the state agencies acted on our complaint, so we forced to file a PIL in the Bombay High Court. On 18 December 2014, Chief Justice Mohit Shah appointed an SIT comprising the Anti-Corruption Bureau and Enforcement Directorate.

“Time and again the court reprimanded the BJP-controlled ACB to act, but it continued to go in slow mode. Finally, the ED acted on HC’s direction and first arrested Sameer Bhujbal and now Chhagan Bhujbal. Please note that they have been arrested under section 19 (1) of the PMLA Act — a money laundering charge and not on Maharashtra Sadan complaint filed by BJP MP Kirit Somaiya,” she said.

Sources claimed that cash was carried in an ambulance to avoid suspicion.

Apart from Sameer Bhujbal, there are six others whose input to the ED, finally led to his arrest. The statements have also found place in Sameer Bhujbal’s remand copy. The ED also recorded statements of various employees and co-directors of the web of companies that the Bhujbals involved themselves with.

1. Anjali Damania, social activist

On 26 August 2013, Anjali Damania on behalf of the Aam Aadmi Party had launched the first tirade against the NCP leader. By attaching detailed proof in the complaint, Damania alleged that Chhagan Bhujbal in his tenure as PWD minister of Maharashtra awarded contracts to builders in lieu of kickbacks. She also exposed a family-builder nexus involving the Bhujbals.

2. Sunil Karve, founder trustee of MET

Sunil Karve, a founder trustee of MET and a chartered accountant by profession, has filed a complaint before the Charity Commissioner alleging a fraud of Rs 177 crore at the institution. Although Karve was reportedly close with the Bhujbal family, he still went ahead and filed the PIL after quitting MET reportedly after a fallout with the Bhujbals that resulted in his ouster from the educational trust.

Karve accused Chhagan Bhujbal and his family members, who are among the trustees of MET, of misappropriating Rs 177 crore of the trust funds and misusing its office building at Bandra Reclamation in Mumbai. Karve, who co-founded MET in 1989 with Bhujbal, had earlier filed a complaint with the Economic Offences Wing of Mumbai Police, alleging that Bhujbal family had usurped an entire floor in the MET building, using it as a residence and also as the office of their furniture business. Karve also filed an application through his lawyer Sayaji Nangre before the Charity Commissioner to seek dismissal of Bhujbal, his wife Meena, Pankaj and nephew Sameer as trustees.

3. Sunil Naik, chartered accountant for Bhujbal Group

On 1 February, the ED arrested Sameer Bhujbal. Seeking his remand, the ED in its remand copy said, “Chartered accountant Sunil Naik deposed the involvement. Sameer Bhujbal’s chartered accountant, Sunil Naik, has given a statement in which he has admitted that he had contacted and proposed to market operators to take cash and provide cheques in the guise of share purchase on the instructions of Bhujbal. Chartered Accountant Sunil Naik deposed that shares of Parvesh Construction Pvt Ltd and Armstrong Energy Pvt Ltd fully owned and controlled by Bhujbals were sold to dubious entities against cash at unrealistic high premiums of Rs 990 per share and funds to the tune of Rs 75 crores and Rs 50 crores respectively were channeled.”.

4. Suresh Jajodia, market operator

“Suresh stated that as instructed by Sunil Naik, he arranged funds in the bank account of Parvesh Construction and Armstrong Energy against cash he received from MET (Mumbai Educational Trust) office of Bhujbals in Bandra and used to transfer it to his Kolkata contacts using hawala operators,” the remand copy said.

5. Pravin Jain, controller of many Bhujbal firms

“Admitted that he had accepted cash from Naik and in turn arranged cheque payments in the bank accounts of Armstrong Energy in lieu of cash to the tune of Rs 10.50 crore.” His employee Prabhakar Sogam visited MET office on his instruction a numerous times and collected cash in bags.

6. Sanjiv Jain, financial consultant

The Kolkata-based financial consultant received approximately Rs 8 crore in cash from Naik for arranging cheque payments in the accounts of Parvesh Construction and Armstrong Energy in the guise of share purchase at high premiums.

7. Sameer Bhujbal, former MP and nephew of Chhagan Bhujbal

A trusted lieutenant of yore behind Chhagan Bhujbal’s exponential growth in terms of assets and his meteoric rise in politics, Sameer Bhujbal often dragged his uncle into newer bouts of controversies. Arrested on 1 February this year by the ED for money laundering and corrupt practices, it is believed that the agency succeeded in cracking Sameer and made him spill the beans on the financial intricacies of the Bhujbal empire.

Prior to the arrest of the duo, a property war was already ensuing between the two Bhujbals—Chhagan and Sameer—as the latter wanted to take control and expand the Rs 2,500 crore worth Bhujbal empire. In his quest to wrest power from the senior Bhujbal, Sameer allegedly got involved in money laundering and launched non-existent firms in the names of many Bhujbal family members.

The length and breadth of Bhujbal empire

Former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal reportedly owns five bungalows in Nashik, 12 shops and flats in Mumbai, bungalows in Thane and Belapur in Navi Mumbai. In Mumbai, he and his family own flats at Worli, Mazgaon, Churchgate, Mahim, Dadar and Santa Cruz. The 65-acre bungalow with an adjoining helipad is located in Pune’s Lonavla.

The 46,500 sq ft space in Nashik is called Bhujbal Farms. This property, which is a 25-room palace with gymnasiums and a full-sized swimming pool, is worth Rs 100 crore alone – a far cry from the Rs 22 crore that Bhujbal had listed as his total assets in his election affidavit.

The ACB records said that Bhujbal has a 2,000 sq ft flat and a Toyota car at Worli, a 600 sq ft flat in Mazgaon, a 1,200 sq ft mini-theatre in wife Meena’s name at Manek Mahal in Churchgate, three floors in the Solitaire building in Santacruz, and a six-bedroom bungalow in Lonavla worth Rs 5 crore which has imported furniture and six service quarters and is built on property spread across 2.82 acres and equipped with a helipad and a huge garden.

With inputs from PTI

‘Earlier govt signed fake MoUs’: Maha CM Fadnavis puts ball in Congress’ court

The Maharashtra government has formed a high-powered committee under chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya aimed to ensure proper implementation of MoUs signed during the ‘Make in India’ week in Mumbai. The state government had hosted the MII week from 13-18 February in the megapolis, along with Department of Industry Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and the Government of India.

Pre-empting an opposition attack during the Budget session of the legislature this week, the Maharashtra government on Saturday said it has formed a high-powered committee headed by Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya to ensure that the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) signed during the Make In India Week fructify. On Thursday, Firstpost in an exclusive story revealed how the Fadnavis government’s showpiece MoU for housing for poor is a rehashed dud.

The formation of the committee was announced days after the Opposition raised serious questions on the lack of transparency of the MoUs. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik had alleged that one MoU with the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI) on affordable housing was inked by the government only to inflate the investment numbers.

Image courtesy:  DGIPR, Maharashtra governmentImage courtesy:  DGIPR, Maharashtra government

Image courtesy: DGIPR, Maharashtra government

Malik said the Congress-NCP government headed by Ashok Chavan had inked a similar MoU with MCHI in 2010 for constructing 5.69 lakh affordable houses in five years in Mumbai Metropolitan Region, but the MoU lapsed in February 2015 without a single house being built. “The value of this MoU is Rs 1.10 lakh crore, which in turn means that around 15 per cent of the Rs 8 lakh crore investment announced by the chief minister is fake,” he had alleged on Thursday, warning that the NCP will take up the issue when the budget session of legislature opens on 9 March.

Replying to NCP’s charge, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government has a policy to follow up each and every MoU.

“I am not aware of what was signed in the year 2010, but if at all it (the MoU) was signed, it shows that the erstwhile (Congress-NCP) government has the habit of signing fake MoUs and do nothing (about it). Our government has a policy of following every single MoU signed,” Fadnavis said while speaking to mediapersons.

As part of the event, the Maharashtra government inked 2,594 MoUs entailing investments of Rs 7.94 lakh crore which could possibly generate employment for over 30 lakh people in the state. A total of 2,097 MoUs were signed with micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) and large industries, and 20 in the skill development sector.

The rest of the MoUs were across various sectors including manufacturing, information and technology, animation, visual effects, gaming and comics (AVGC), textile, food processing, auto and auto components, defence and energy. To give an impetus to infrastructure, MoUs were also signed for industrial infrastructure, housing, railways, ports, and agriculture sectors, claimed the government.

Kshatriya said that apart from the high-powered committee, there will also be some sub-committees which will report to it on the progress of the MoUs. “We will decide the modalities about MoUs, as there were over 2,500 MoUs and it is not possible for the high-powered committee to take a review and monitor all of them. So we have decided to bifurcate MoUs on the basis of expected investment and the jobs generated,” he said.

“The large MoUs in terms of investments and jobs will be handled by the high-powered committee, while the rest will be taken care of by the sub-committees and also by the principal secretaries of the concerned departments, under the high- powered committee,” Kshatriya said.

He said that some smaller MoUs can also be delegated to the CEO of the MIDC or the secretary to the industry department and there will be 4-5 levels of classification of MoUs, as per the amount and expected employment generation, as both criteria are important.

State Industries Minister Subhash Desai on Friday said that the government would form a task force to ensure that at least 75 to 80 per cent of the MoUs fructify as actual investments. Speaking at a CII function, Desai told reporters that the government was aware that MoUs often remain on paper and do not get converted into actual investments. “Therefore, the government was planning to set up a task force to monitor and ensure that the MoUs translate into actual investments,” he said.

With inputs from PTI

Maharashtra mocks Make in India: Fadnavis govt’s showpiece MoU for housing for poor is a rehashed dud

Investment road shows by governments are notorious for announcing MoUs worth lakhs of crores. Most of these MoUs are meant to capture media headlines. They remain on paper and are not even a faint memory by the time the road show returns the following year with a fresh set of MoUs.

But the Maharashtra government, it seems, does not consign useless MoUs to the dustbin. Not only does it remember them, but revives them as well. That is exactly what the Devendra Fadnavis government did with its much publicised MoU for constructing 5.69 lakh houses for the urban poor. It picked up a dud MoU singed by the earlier Congress government with a builders’ body and just regurgitated it, adding a new dimension to Narendra Modi‘s Make in India: Cut-paste in India!

This is what happened:

Circa February 2010: Ashok Chavan, chief minister. Chhagan Bhujbal, deputy chief minister. JP Dange, chief secretary. Paras Gundecha, president of Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI), an apex body builders. They sign an MoU in February to construct five lakh houses for the urban poor. The MoU runs through its five-year course without a single brick being laid. It expires somewhere around the time that the incumbent government plans its Make in India extravaganza in Mumbai.

Circa February 2016: There’s a change of government. A new chief minister, Fadnavis, is in place. Subhash Desai is the new industry minister. Shreekant Singh the new principal secretary, housing. And Dharmesh Jain, the new president of the MCHI. These new incumbents pick up the old, useless piece of paper that has just run out of even its legal sanctity, dust it up and announce to the world as a brand new plan to build 5.69 lakh houses for the poor in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region at a total cost of Rs 1.10 lakh crore.

The similarity of this farce does not end here. Fanfare and events was the hallmark of the previous government too.

Devendra Fadnavis in a file photo. PTIDevendra Fadnavis in a file photo. PTI

Devendra Fadnavis in a file photo. PTI

It is not surprising that the same lobby of babus was present in the Make in India week in Mumbai to witness the same farce being recreated. The new MoU was signed during the Maharashtra Investment Seminar, a part of the Make in India week.

A senior official from the state housing department says, “Over 82 reputed builders are part of MCHI and this project will generate around 7.65 lakh direct jobs. We will ensure land and other clearances to ensure speedy execution of the projects,” he added.

Fadnavis on MCHI and investments

On February 17, on the back of the Make in India week, Fadnavis declared that the state had attracted investments worth about Rs 8 lakh crore. “We have signed many memoranda of understanding (MoU) with several companies across sectors to the tune of Rs 8 lakh crore during the ‘Make in India’ week,” he said.

“This MoU (with MCHI) is in line with our aim to develop 5.69 lakh affordable homes in the MMR by 2020. We will act as a facilitator for the developers, who would submit their proposals under the scheme to develop affordable homes. We will ensure land and other clearances to ensure speedy execution of the projects,” Fadnavis said.

This dusted up MoU accounts for more than one-eighth of all promised investments generated during the Make in India (Rs 1.10 lakh crore out of Rs 8 lakh crore), putting a big question mark over the entire road show and its so-called success.

A senior officer from the housing department confirmed that the MoU signed by Chavan lapsed in February 2015, and claimed that CM Fadnavis had decided to give the builders one more chance. “Early January this year, the housing department once again sent a letter to MCHI, asking whether they are interested in the work,” the officer added.

The developers, on the face of it, are putting up a positive spin to it despite not fulfilling the terms of the previous MoU. “In the last five years, hardly any work happened on the real estate front. But we are keen on taking up the project of constructing affordable homes once again,” promised Paras Gundecha, former president of the MCHI — and one of the architects of the dud MoU of 2010.

It must be said in fairness that affordable housing has been one of the key concerns of the Fadnavis government. Three months ago, Fadnavis had asked the Slum Rehabilitation Authority to give Rs 500 crore to the Konkan board of MHADA to buy land in the MMR and construct affordable homes. He had also assured Rs 500 crore to Shivshahi Punarvasan Prakalp Limited (SPPL) to build affordable houses in the MMR region. In an interaction with senior officers before Make in India, Fadnavis reportedly said that roping in private developers was important to construct affordable homes. He had emphasised, however, that care needed to be taken to ensure that builders received no untoward benefits.

When Firstpost asked why the same MoU with MCHI was signed again, a senior official of the housing department said that this time MoU would be backed not just by good intent, but quick action. He said the government will facilitate the members of MCHI-CREDAI, to obtain necessary permissions, registrations, approvals, clearance and fiscal incentives. “Like the MCGM, we have been implementing Ease of Doing Business across all sectors,” he added.

While Firstpost has acquired a copy of the new MoU, the earlier one is said to have been gutted in the Mantralaya Fire.

Confirming that there was a similar, if not same, MoU between the two sides, SS Husain, CEO of MCHI, told Firstpost that the earlier one signed with the state government in 2010 did not  workout form both ends and hardly any work was done on it in the last five years. “It could not be executed from both sides,” he admitted. Asked why, he simply said: “Ask the previous MCHI president, not me.”

But this time, Hussain claimed, the intent was genuine and that the MCHI, which has more than 1,500 builder-members, will execute the project in all earnestness. “In 2016 we will build 3 lakh affordable homes,” he said with inexplicable confidence, built as it is on the ruins of a defunct MoU.

Talking to Firstpost former chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan said, “I signed several MoUs, and I don’t remember if I signed one with the MCHI. If the present CM also signed the same MoU, then like the Centre, the state is also doing fake business like PM Narendra Modi. If this true then it’s very shocking to us.” Chavan’s shock, of course, is selective, not extending to the fact that his government and the one that followed (with Prithviraj Chavan as chief minister), were content to keep this project on paper.

Prithviraj Chavan recalled that he his government received the MoU in inheritance from Ashok Chavan. “We did not act upon it because the builders wanted to extract unreasonable concessions. If I had agreed to those conditions I would have committed illegalities.”

It is a mystery how the Fadnavis government will execute a similar MoU with the same body of builders that is hungry for short cuts and government give-aways.

Here’s a copy of the new MoU:

Left high and dry? Suresh Prabhu’s Rail Budget neglected his own state, say commuters, politicians

Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu presented his second rail budget on Thursday, but there is disappointment for Mumbai and Maharashtra as there are no new trains and major announcements, except for two rail corridors.

This year too, he has not made a big announcement, but has focused on development for the railways. There are more than 84 lakh commuters on the western and central railway, but there are no major announcements of new trains. However, the minister promised to increase the platform height of each stations in Mumbai.

Rail commuters in the city feel that the focus should be on providing quick solutions to the problems of the common people-solutions that will make their travel more comfortable and safe. But commuters appear to be in for a disappointment.

Suresh Prabhu. File photo. AFPSuresh Prabhu. File photo. AFP

Suresh Prabhu. File photo. AFP

Commenting on the rail budget, Sameer Bobate said, “While the railways are always talking about big projects, the average commuter is only interested in improving his travelling experience.”

In the regimes of Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and even Mamta Bannerjee, the minister has taken care of their state and cities, but Prabhu did not introduce any new train for Mumbai or Maharashtra, he said.

According to Dhaval Desai from the Observer Research Foundation, the immediate need is to stop the railway deaths that are taking place on the tracks on a daily basis. “It is a fact that there are at least 10-12 people dying on the tracks every day, and this is a matter of serious concern,” he said.

Speaking to Firstpost , an RTI activist Anil Galgali said, “The railway minister, who hails from Mumbai has made a mockery of the sentiments of 84 lakh passengers belonging to his own city Mumbai. There are no new trains and the budget involves a repetition of the same routine. The lifeline is becoming a death line.”

Former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the railway budget presented by railway minister Suresh Prabhu was “quite disappointing”. “There’s nothing in it for Mumbai and Maharashtra. We had asked the government to start various rail services and projects, but in vain.”

More criticism came from Congress MP and former CM Ashok Chavan, who called it a “super flop” rail budget. “It did not meet the common man’s expectations. The BJP-led government had promised many things before election, but all its promises are falling flat now. There was no vision in the budget,” he added.

In Mumbai, nearly 84 lakh people travel in packed locals. And yet, the government has disappointed Mumbaikars, said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik to Firstpost.

However, city BJP president Ashish Shelar said Suresh Prabhu has presented a development-oriented budget. “We never give false promises to commuters. Two rail corridors in Mumbai will change the face of rail travel in the years to come,” he said.

Following are the major announcements for Mumbai-

Two rail Corridors- Churchgate to Virar and CST to Panvel, with both corridors connected to Metro Rail.
For reasons of security of commuters, increasing the height of platforms
A special corridor for the Mumbai and Navi Mumbai Airports
Starting work on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train, with the help of Japan
CCTV Cameras at all stations

Sanjay Dutt is a free man on Thursday: Guess how much he’s earned during his time in jail?

Pune: Actor Sanjay Dutt will be released by 10 am on Thursday from Yerwada Central Jail with Rs 440, that he earned by making paper bags while serving his jail term spanning nearly 28 months.

File image of Sanjay Dutt. PTI

File image of Sanjay Dutt. PTI

The interesting thing is that the jailed actor has been making paper bags during this period and his earnings are worth less than peanuts for him. An actor like him pulls in more than Rs one crore on a daily basis while on a shoot, while in jail, he has been earning Rs 15 per month — put into perspective, that’s around 50 paise per day. Can you even buy anything for 50 paise any more?

Meanwhile, senior jail officials told Firstpost that no farewell ceremony will be organised for him in jail. Although Dutt is a renowned Bollywood star, he will be taken to the judicial section where his body mark identifications will be verified against those registered when he was taken to jail.

The 56-year-old celebrity prisoner will be released after serving the remainder of his five-year sentence for possession of illegal arms in the 12 March, 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case. Dutt is scheduled to step out of jail at around 10 am on Thursday, and will be received by his wife Manyata, children and close friends.

As part of his five-year sentence, Dutt has served more than 50 months in two installments — excluding the parole and furlough he was granted at various times, and on different grounds.

For his latest stint, Dutt went to prison on 21 May, 2013. the jail authority sanctions his furlough leave in October 2013. It were extended by 14 days. Then, the actor sanctioned parole in 2014. This was also extended, this time by days. Once again, the jail authority sanctioned a furlough of 14 days for him in 2014. The leave was then increased by two days.

Sanjay Dutt comes out of jail before almost eight months or 256 days before the end of his term.

But, according to Additional Director-General (Jail) Dr Bhushan Upadhyay, Dutt has completed his sentence. He had already served 18 months in jail when he was sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Supreme Court, and from the remaining 42 months, he was given seven days remission for good behaviour every month, said Dr Upadhyay.

Mumbai’s civic body has an idea to protect you from asthma: The sterilisation of pigeons

Mumbai: If you are a Mumbaikar and have a bout of tuberculosis or have suffered an asthma attack, did you ever wonder what might have caused it? It might surprise you but pigeon droppings and feathers could be the reason. To this end, there are some good tidings as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is planning to sterilise the burgeoning population of pigeons.

Too many to count? ReutersToo many to count? Reuters

Too many to count? Reuters

So after the dogs over a decade ago, it is now the turn of the pigeons to get into the family planning programme. The idea of sterilising pigeons was first mooted by Shiv Sena corporator from Borivali, Abhishek Ghosalkar. He believed that the BMC should control this exploding population of pigeons with the help of Ovistop. According to this method, each pigeon is fed with Ovistop, a product made of corn seeds and covered in Nicarbazin, which acts as a contraceptive for birds. The pill is touted to be highly effective.

The BMC health committee has already passed a proposal to this effect and has forwarded it to the Maharashtra health department for approval on Wednesday. But some procedural and political bottlenecks still remain.

The decks are yet to be completely cleared as the state is planning to forward it to the Centre for necessary action bringing the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) office into the picture. A senior FDA official said that if the drug has to be imported from abroad, a mandatory clearance from the DCGI is needed.

Speaking with Firstpost, Borivali corporator Ghosalkar said, “More than 80 percent of the pigeon population in a Spanish town has come down after a similar sterilisation programme was undertaken.”

A study has also revealed that out of 10 asthma patients in Mumbai, one contracts it from pigeons.

“The percentage of the diseased is higher in children. I am neither anti-animal nor anti-birds. But we have to save our children and the lives of Mumbaikars from the pigeon menace,” Ghosalkar said.

In a reply given to Ghosalkar over his proposal, the BMC had said that the matter does not come under the jurisdiction of its health department and belongs to the director, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of the state government. “However, we have asked the FDA about implementing this method of providing food mixed with Ovistop to pigeons in the city,” a civic official told Firstpost.

The reason the Central health ministry has to be involved because the contraceptive called Ovistop is not locally available and has to be imported from abroad.

However, there is a political twist to the story as to why this programme was not taken up before and might not be executed until the civil polls in the country’s business capital in 2017 have been completed. The ruling parties — Shiv Sena and the BJP — may not be in a mood to risk their future as many communities in Mumbai are now used to living with these pigeons.

A comparison of these delays with the speed at which pigeons are born, however, is a matter of concern.

According to a civic official, one pair of pigeons can produce up to 48 squabs a year. No wonder, Mumbai has seen a tremendous jump in its pigeon population over the years.

On paper, there are 50 kabutar khanas in Mumbai. But in reality, there are more than a million places where residents offer corn, pulses and peanuts to pigeons. This can be anywhere — whether the terrace of a building or an open space in a market area with people from all walks of life contributing to these mass programmes of feeding pigeons.

A study has revealed that a well fed-pigeon on an average dispenses up to 11.5 kg of droppings a year.

That’s quite a quantity of poop to be taken care of, given the population of pigeons in Mumbai.

Best of luck, BMC!

Make in India fire: How BMC nixed Wizcraft’s two-gate plan and saved Mumbai from a catastrophe

This map was submitted to the BMC by the event management company.This map was submitted to the BMC by the event management company.

This map was submitted to the BMC by the event management company.

The huge fire that gutted the stage of Maharashtra Night programme during the Make in India jamboree on Sunday night fortunately did not result in any casualties.

Despite the presence of over 10000 people including foreign dignitaries and VVIPs at the venue when the massive fire broke out, Mumbai police and the BMC’s disaster control cell came in for high praise for an almost flawless job of evacuation. It was so smooth that everybody thanked god that there was no damage other than that to the image of the Maharashtra government.

But it now turns out that providence had only a bit role in avoiding what could have been a gigantic tragedy on the shores of Chowpatty. Much of the credit should be parked with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Mumbai Fire Brigade.

But Firstpost can reveal that if event management company Wizcraft International’s original site design was adhered to, evacuation might not have been as smooth as it was.

The fire at Girgaum beach during a Make in India event. AFPThe fire at Girgaum beach during a Make in India event. AFP

The fire at Girgaum beach during a Make in India event. AFP

Wizcraft, which is already under scanner for not paying heed to fire department’s advice, proposed setting up only two gates, one each for entry and exit for over 10000 people and for an event of such scale and magnitude.

In a copy of the event map in possession of Firstpost and reproduced here, Wizcraft proposed setting up a barricade around the entire venue which could have made evacuation during an accident almost impossible.

The eventuality was avoided since the BMC’s disaster management cell and the fire department red-flagged the proposal. The barricades were taken off and five gates strategically installed after a joint inspection done on 12 February by additional municipal commissioner SVR Sriniwas, Pallavi Darade, Jt CP Deven Bharti, Jt CP, Traffic, Milind Bharambe and chief fire officer Prabhat Rahangdale.

Though the event management company at the centre of the controversy has claimed that all instructions were followed, senior officials from BMC and state government have raised questions over how flammable material was put under the stage and conditions on fireworks not complied with.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered the inquiry, but questions have been raised why there is no FIR even 4 days after the incident.

Talking exclusively to Firstpost Fadnavis said FIR will be lodged in two days. “If anyone is responsible for this we take strictest action.”

Phone calls and text message queries to company officials till the publishing of this report went unanswered.

Did MMRDA suffer loss of revenue?

The Make in India week likely resulted in a revenue loss of Rs 21 crore for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Authority of India (MMRDA), according to a letter by RTI activist Anil Galgali.

Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), the government arm organising the event,  has reportedly refused to pay up, resulting in the organisation losing out on rentals for a week at its Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) plot.

A letter in possession of Firstpost also reveals BMC had waived off all charges and license fees for the event which was held from 13th to the 18th February, resulting in further revenue loss.

Maha govt moved SC to hold event at Chowpatty

In light of Bombay high court’s refusal to allow the state to hold such a huge jamboree on Girgaum Chowpatty, the Centre had moved the apex court, following which the Supreme Court on 2 February stayed the high court order and allowed the Maharashtra government to hold the event.

Make In India fire: More than 24 hours are over but what’s stopping Maharashtra govt from filing an FIR?

Mumbai: Even with the top echelons of the Maharashtra government present at the venue including Governor Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Mumbai Police Commissioner Dattatreya Padsalgikar and BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta when a raging fire consumed the stage in the Make in India Week on Sunday evening, no FIR has been filed so far in 24 hours.

The burnt out remains of the Make in India Week stage on Monday. Image courtesy Deepak SalviThe burnt out remains of the Make in India Week stage on Monday. Image courtesy Deepak Salvi

The burnt out remains of the Make in India Week stage at Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai on Monday. Image courtesy Deepak Salvi

The event was organised at the Girgaum Chowpatty in Mumbai and the cultural programmes were on when the incident happened. Fortunately, there were no casualties despite a huge gathering thanks to the efficiency of the Mumbai Police and BMC Disaster Management Cell.

What is now gradually developing into a mystery is that none of the Maharashtra government including the Chief Minister’s Office, Chief Secretary Office, MIDC and the departments of industry, culture and protocol have come forward to file an FIR, a source from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) told Firstpost.

Cranes at work at the Make in India Week venue at Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai, a day after the fire stage on Monday. Image courtesy Deepak SalviCranes at work at the Make in India Week venue at Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai, a day after the fire stage on Monday. Image courtesy Deepak Salvi

Cranes at work at the Make in India Week venue at Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai, a day after the fire stage on Monday. Image courtesy Deepak Salvi

The same source questioned why there was no FIR filed when a suo motu registration of a FIR could have been easily done with so many senior police officials present.

The BMC rule book states that fire brigade officials can also file an FIR but they also didn’t, said the source. He added that investigations are on. Additional commissioner Sanjay Deshmukh said that he will speak on the issue later after the initial investigation ends.

When Firstpost contacted the police department seeking to understand as to why no FIR had been filed yet, Mumbai Police spokesperson and DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni said that they’re waiting for the inquiry to be completed. He, however, added that prima facie it looks like an accident.

Workers at work at the Make in India venue in Mumbai on Tuesday. Image courtesy Deepak SalviWorkers at work at the Make in India venue in Mumbai on Tuesday. Image courtesy Deepak Salvi

Workers at work at the Make in India venue in Mumbai on Tuesday. Image courtesy Deepak Salvi

The fire had broken out during the Maharashtra Night event at south Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty, gutting the entire stage on Sunday evening. The fire started at 8.25 pm and was put out only by 9.45 pm. The organiser of the event Wizcraft issued a statement refuting all allegations of negligence by saying that all fire safety norms were followed and swift evacuation ensured that there were no casualties. The stage, officials say, was designed by Nitin Chandrakant Desai and the entire event was managed by Wizcraft. The state government had coughed out Rs 4 crore for the event.

The art director Nitin Desai also clarified his stand saying that after 4.30 pm on Sunday, he handed over the stage to Wizcraft and suspects that fire may have been caused due to short circuit, a doubt that the BMC has also expressed.

A Wizcraft senior executive refrained from commenting on the incident when contacted by em>Firstpost. Chief secretary Swadhin Kshatriya, Industry principal secretary Apporva Chandra and BMC commissioner Ajoy Mahta were busy with the ‘Make in India’ event on Monday and therefore unavailable for comment.

“It was a very unfortunate accident which occurred while the event was in progress. Soon after the incident the firefighters evacuated all the citizens and dancers safely. We have ordered an enquiry into the incident and report will be prepared, only after that can we say anything,” Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said on Sunday.

“However, no one was injured thanks to a fire audit conducted Thursday. A comprehensive disaster management plan was prepared because of which the fire fighters could act smoothly,” the chief minister said.

Fire strikes at the heart of Modi’s image building exercise, guts Make In India stage in Chowpatty, Fadnavis orders probe

Mumbai: At 8.30 pm Sunday night, I felt strong winds billowing in from the Arabian sea as Puja Sawant and almost 50 dancers were on stage dancing to a blockbuster ‘Lavani’ number at the Make In India cultural extravaganza on Girgaum Chowpatty beach. I was standing further back with the media huddle watching both the stage and the giant screens when orange flames burst out from under the stage. We could see it but the dancers could not. Within moments the blaze gobbled up our view of the stage in black fumes, fanned by high winds, licking the sides of a scaffolding rig and lighting up the night sky. Those in the front rows waved frantically for the dancers to leave but the music was so loud and the dancers so involved in the moment that their escape was just in the nick of time.

CbL2Qa6UMAE9E-D 380CbL2Qa6UMAE9E-D 380Luckily, no casualties but what an embarrassment considering the theme — Make In India, and the audience: Mumbai’s top industrialists, practically half of Bollywood and Marathi filmdom and top officials of Maharashtra government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the ‘Make in India’ week in Mumbai on Saturday.

The week-long event, the boldest since Modi launched the initiative to emulate China’s export miracle back in 2014, seeks to “spark a renewed sense of pride in India’s manufacturing” says the marketing blurb.

“Maharashtra welcomes you” read half burnt posters and banners at the venue as cranes pick up the remains of the night and smoke continues to billow many hours after the fire.

“Disarray is the word. I can imagine the headlines tomorrow in Beijing and Islamabad. There is no tape to cordon off people, anyone is just walking in and picking up scraps…,” I’m very disappointed at these optics…what kind of message does this send out to the world about India’s financial capital?” a stock broker at the scene told Firstpost.

The week-long string of events is meant to showcase India’s “manufacturing prowess” and attract billions of dollars in investments from domestic and global majors.

Over 2,500 international and 8,000 domestic companies will be participating in the week-long multi-sectoral industrial event, which will be attended by foreign government delegations from 68 countries and business teams from 72 nations. Clearly, high stakes here. Though the official line is that a short circuit could have done it, the “sabotage?” angle is raging on social.

Chowpatty is a banned area for such events and Bombay High Court had refused permission for the event. Yet, the Maharashtra government pushed ahead and went to the Supreme Court seeking permission for the event which it got barely two weeks ago. Did the government lose time in legalities and do a rush job on safety considerations is another question everyone’s asking.

The massive blaze on Sunday evening engulfed the 200 ft by 120 feet plaster of paris stage in minutes. Luckily there were no casualties. Four teams of the fire brigade which were already at the spot rushed in and reinforcements were swift. Mumbai Police and the fire brigade did a tremendous job in evacuation and rescue, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis stayed on to personally monitor the unfolding situation and left the spot only after ensuring everyone was safe and there was some closure to the evening.

BMC Disaster Control brought the fire under control within an hour by which time there wasn’t much left of the stage which hosted Amitabh Bachchan and Vivek Oberoi and chief minister Fadnavis barely an hour before the blaze.

At least 14 fire tenders and 10 water tankers were rushed to the site.

Maharashtra Governor C.V. Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his wife Amruta Fadnavis, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his wife Rashmi Thackeray, actors Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Hema Malini, Katrina Kaif, Vivek Oberoi, Isha Koppikar and Shreyas Talpade, ministers, parliamentarians and legislators witnessing the performance were shifted to safer places.

For those of us who were at the venue, the first visual of the fire was an angry orange spark just below where Puja Sawant was dancing and it seemed to have caught the top of a decorative foliage and erupted out control in seconds. BMC said the fire could have been caused by an electric short-circuit.

Fadnavis termed the incident sad and said a comprehensive probe will be ordered and those responsible for it would face action.

Fadnavis confirmed that there were no injuries or casualties and all artistes and guests were evacuated safely.

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