The Congress on Saturday carried a protest outside Prakash Mehta’s residence in Mumbai, demanding the resignation of the Maharashtra Housing Minister. Mr Mehta is facing allegations of having favored a builder and violating norms in a slum redevelopment project in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar area.
The police had literally barricaded the area near Mr Mehta’s home to prevent Congress workers from reaching his place.
“We want the signature the ‘Maha” corrupt minister of Maharashtra, Prakash Mehta, on his resignation letter. For the last two weeks, everyday there is a new scam against Prakash Mehta,” Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam told reporters before being arrested by the police.
“Firstly he tried to help a builder benefit by taking the name of the Chief Minister. Now there is an allegation that he has handed over a MHADA plot to a builder. Now there is an allegation that his wife and son are also involved in a SRA project nearby,” he further added.
The Opposition however claims that Mr Mehta favored a builder in a Ghatkopar transit camp project to help him convert it into a larger slum redevelopment scheme, which would have resulted in a bonus of around Rs. 500 crores for the developer.
Fresh on the heels of the Slum Rehabilitation Agency (SRA) scam, state housing Minister Prakash Mehta dated fresh allegations of unlawful activity. This time, he has been accused of intervening in the allotment of Mhada land to favour a real estate firm. The Opposition however, renewed demands of Mehta’s resignation in the state legislature so that a fair investigation could be conducted in this case.
The new allegations pour in just two days after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced an inquiry into an SRA project in Tardeo, where the minister is under sca nner for misleading the department and Fadnavis to favour a developer. The CM had announced this probe in the state Assembly and council on Monday.
The new allegations against Mehta relate to a 18,902 sqm plot at Pantnagar, Ghatkopar, owned by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada). In 1999, this plot was allotted to Nirmal Holding Private Limited (NHPL) to construct a transit camp by utilising the Floor Space Index (FSI) of 1.25 and using the remaining FSI of 1.25 for commercial exploitation.
After the NHPL failed hand over the 336 transit camp tenements, Mhada, in 2006, suggested the allotment be revoked. But Mehta as the then local legislator had allegedly intervened in favour of the developer. Two years later, Mhada opined that if it developed this plot on its own, 1,448 tenements in transit camp would be built besides 205 flats.
The state government, on June 2012, finally cancelled the allotment of the plot to NHPL.
The Opposition has now alleged Mehta recently allotted the plot to the same builder using his ministerial powers, but it failed to back this allegation with any evidence.
“A huge irregularity has taken place in the decision and it should be probed after sacking the minister. The government had also transferred a senior officer, who refused to obey the orders of allotting the plot to the developer,” said Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who raised the issue in legislative assembly.
Mehta rubbished the allegation. “The allotment has not been done. The allegations have no iota of substance and I will reply to the allegations on the floor of the house. I am ready to face any inquiry and not scared of any such attack,” he told HT.
These allegations later rocked both the houses of the state legislature on Wednesday with surprisingly the ruling party staging a walk out in the legislative council, claiming the ministers and ruling party members were not given a chance to speak. This is the first time ruling party members staged a walkout even as the Opposition called for Mehta’s resignation.
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and Nationalist Congress Party group leader Jayant Patil also demanded a thorough look throughout the matter.
“The nexus between bureaucrat, political and builders need to be exposed by conducting a thorough probe. Unless the minister is removed from the post, a fair probe cannot take place,” Chavan said.
The controversy turned political after a press statement issued in the name of Mehta went viral, saying some had displeased the leader from within his party and also had launched an indirect attack against him.
Mehta, however, raised an email statement denying the entire set of allegations. He later wrote a letter to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Mumbai police commissioner seeking an inquiry into the statement issued in his name.