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Diary list payments to officials

Diary list payments to officials

Author: Chitrangada Choudhury
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: February 2, 2007

Introduction: Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 45 lakh, payoffs coincide with file's journey in government, say investigators

The home Department has not responded to a three-month-old police request to file charges of corruption against public servants who investigators said received payoffs totalling more than Rs 1 crore for giving per missions to buildings that replaced an Oshiwara slum.

Among the officials are Debashish Chakrabarti, CEO of the agency tasked with clearing Mumbai's sprawling shanty towns, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), and former Mumbai collector S.S. Zende.

Chakrabarti and Zende, however, deny receiving any payoffs.

Chakrabarti heads Mumbai's faltering 16-year effort to convert slums into housing towers and was investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) following city-wide raids on government departments, and offices and homes of officials and builders on September 14, 2006.

A crucial piece of evidence, said ACB officers, is a diary unearthed during a 17-hour search of a Versova bungalow belonging to former municipal officer Jayant Joshi (60), who now calls himself a redevelopment consultant. He was arrested as police tried to untangle payoffs to officials who endorse lists of fake slum-dwellers to allow construction.

The diary is in Joshi's handwriting and lists payments totalling more than Rs 1 crore to officials over 12 months for an Oshiwara slum-redevelopment project by Citimake Developers. joshi's son runs the company, said a highly placed ACB official, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media.

"I don't know of any diary," deputy chief minister R.R. Patil told HT, when asked why his government was refusing permission to prosecute officials and refusing information sought by investigators from the SRA.

Asked about the ACB request made on November 21, 2006, to file charges against the officials named in Joshi's diary, Patil said: "We will send that letter to the housing department too."

Asked about the diary, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, head of the housing department and the SRA, told HT: "The committee (composed of one man, retired bureaucrat B.K. Agarwal) will look into all this."

There are 30 payments listed in the diary to officials from the SRA, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Collector's office, a councillor, court officials and the police, the ACB official said. The payments range from Rs 5,000 to local police - to Rs 45 lakh paid to SRA chief Chakrabarti, the official said.

"I don't know Joshi or anything about this diary or (about) an ACB request for an inquiry against me," said Chakrabarti. "I deny the charge completely" Two former CEOs of the SRA are also named in corruption cases filed by the ACB.

ACB investigators said that they found the dates of the payments matched the progress of the project's file through departments. Joshi told police interrogators how payments smoothed the way to clearing slum-rehousing projects in government departments, in particular the SRA.

The ACB intends to produce the recording in the High Court, which is now hearing the case, the ACB official said. On Wednesday, the court also starting hearing two public interest litigations on corruption in the SRA.

The September raids were conducted after a special court asked the police to investigate a slum-redevelopment project in Borivli's Sukurwadi area. As the BMC's Senior Colony Officer till 2004, Joshi had verified Sukurwadi's tenant lists, which investigations revealed had fake names.

Now out on bail after six weeks in jail, Joshi said: "There is no concrete case against me. My lawyer says it will take 10 years even before authorities can get a date for the court hearing."

Asked about the diary found in his house, he said: "Yes, the ACB took a diary, but I do not know what their case about it is."

The ACB's raids last September in the course of investigating the Sukurwadi case triggered a flood of complaints - now 189 against the SRA. It is the only criminal investigation into an SRA project.

The ACB's request for special investigators was turned down by the government last month, and its request for information from the SRA was refused by the housing department on November 25, 2006.

The letter from the housing department said: "The government has decided there is no need to give information about slum-redevelopment cases to the ACB." The housing department was, however, legally bound to give information in three other cases now being heard in the ACB's special court.

In January, in response to an ACB request for a special prosecutor to handle SRA cases, the Law and Judiciary Department - also under Deshmukh - wrote: "Who will bear the cost of this?"

The same month, the government appointed a one-man administrative committee, headed by retired bureaucrat Bal Kumar Agarwal, instead of the criminal investigation requested by the ACB. "I am not protecting any officials," Deshmukh told Hindustan Times.

chitrangada.choudhury@hindustantimes.com


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