Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flying stone gives MSRDC a black eye

Human Rights Commission asks MSRDC to pay Rs 2,18,500 to Rashmi Sudheer, who lost her eye to a flying stone while riding a rickshaw on the under-construction Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road Mumbai

A government roadways corporation has been ordered to monetarily compensate a scientist who was blinded in one eye after being hit by a stone missile from a road construction site in Powai.

In her complaint to the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC), Rashmi Sudheer had pointed out that the site was left unguarded by negligent contractors, and was also without any warning boards or safety barricades.

Last month, the commission ordered the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) to pay damages to the tune of Rs 2,18,500 to the 28-year-old.

On the morning of September 30, Rashmi - a research associate with a multinational company - was travelling from her mother’s house in Marol to her workplace in Thane in an autorickshaw.

As she neared the Indian Institute of Technology gate on the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR), a loose stone launched by the wheels of a speeding truck shattered her right eye.

Doctors later informed her that the eye was permanently damaged, but she would still need urgent surgery to save the other (Mumbai Mirror had carried a report on October 6, 2008).

In the last 10 months, Rashmi has endured five operations, including one to repair a fractured eyebrow bone. Her latest surgery, last week, was a cosmetic procedure to repair scars around her eyes.

In December 2008, with the help of S S Matondkar of the NGO, Human Rights Mission, Rashmi filed a complaint with MSHRC, claiming compensation of Rs 20 lakh.

Though the commission asked the two parties to mutually settle the compensation issue, the corporation refused to do so, stating that the “damages claimed were too high”.

Construction agencies are casual about these things. After the accident, a government official was quoted in a newspaper saying that it was just an accident - Rashmi Sudheer

Since the mishap on September 30 last year, Rashmi, a research associate with an MNC, has undergone five surgeries

Rashmi justified her claim saying that - apart from surgeries that she already had - she would have to spend regularly for cosmetic procedures.

“Cosmetic surgery will cost Rs one lakh or more and I would need regular surgeries to change the artificial eye. Also, the loss of vision has affected my efficiency at work,” she told the commission.

Rashmi - who is married, and has a one-and-a-half-year-old child - also stated that she needed to be justly compensated as her company’s medical insurance did not cover cosmetic surgery costs.

Meanwhile, the MSRDC insisted that Unity Infraprojects Limited - the contractors appointed to repair the road - should also be named as a party in the complaint.

The corporation also claimed that they had taken all safety precautions, and also alleged that the stone could have fallen from trucks carrying construction material to other projects.

The Mumbai Mirror story on October 6. Since her injury in September last year, Rashmi has endured five operations, including one to repair a fractured eyebrow bone

But the commission ruled against all of MSRDC’s arguments.

“On the road where work is being executed - either the construction of a bridge or the widening of roads, etc - the executing agency has to be careful about the safety of the populace, and thus provide extra safeguards, such as diversion of traffic, etc,” commission member Subhash Lalla said in his judgement.

The commission said that MSRDC could recover the compensation from the contractor. The complainant - the commission ruled - could approach a civil court if she wanted to pursue her claim for a higher compensation.

Rashmi who has borne her loss stoically said: “The construction agencies are usually casual about these things. After the accident, a government official was quoted in the newspaper saying that ‘it was just an accident’.”

S M Shetty of Human Rights Mission said: “Accidents due to the negligence of construction companies happen all the time. By awarding compensation to Rashmi, the MSHRC has created a precedent.”

When contacted, a senior MSRDC official stated: “The copy of the order has not reached us. If there is such an order, we will honour it.”

By Manoj R Nair and Dipti Sonawala


Thursday, July 23, 2009

BMC Water Problem (UWA)


MCGM gets e-savvy

MCGM has planned to open documentation centres to computerise important papers used by the government, finds Swati Soni

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has a stock of files stuck in red tape. This situation has made it impossible to scout through essential documents required for various projects.

“It’s high time we streamline these documents to stop further delay in any government projects. For this, we plan to start documentation centres at Kandivali (E) and Vasant Vihar Complex (Kandivali, W),” reveals Suprabha Marathe, project manager, MCGM.

The plan includes computerisation of documents in four different categories from A to D based on the different departments of the city. “All these documents are important, as they have the details of birth and death, information on property tax and transfer of properties, to name a few. They will be stocked and maintained ward wise for immediate usage,” says Marathe.

In the longer run, the MCGM plans to provide vital information on their portal for all citizens. “Often, citizens have to struggle for basic information. But, once the information is up on the portal, it becomes easier for both, the civic body and citizens, to access it. This will save lot of time for everyone,” hopes Marathe.

Currently, the department is sorting documents from the different sections. “We have started collecting documents from various sections such as housing development, city planning and roads etc with the help of the Science and Technology institute of Pimpri,” reveals Marathe.

In the future, the corporation also plans to allot one room to each section of the civic body for computerised documentation. Hopefully, this step will help cut off a lot of red tape and delay that has been the bane of those seeking civic help.

Swati Soni

Monday, July 20, 2009

ATS Reforms 15 trained terrorists

Cover Story
The youths were part of two groups – one from Kandivli that had been indoctrinated and was waiting to go to Pakistan for training and the other from south Mumbai that had returned from Pakistan. Now, they are not only back in the mainstream, but are also helping police identify other misguided youths

M S Khan (name changed), a 22-year-old Muslim boy from south Mumbai, had gone to Pakistan last year for a three-month Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) training camp. He was supposed to be part of a sleeper module in Mumbai that could strike any time on orders from across the border. But close to seven months after his return, instead of waiting for the orders, Khan has forsaken the path of terror to make a living selling fruits.

Khan’s transformation is the result of a process started by the Maharashtra ATS to reform youths indoctrinated by terror organisations. He is one of 15 potential terrorists brought back into the mainstream in the recent past. He is now an important cog in the ATS's intelligence gathering network and also helps reform other radicalised Muslims.

The ATS did not discuss individual cases or reveal details as it might compromise their operations and prompt terror outfits to introduce counter-measures, but recently it neutralised two groups, one from Kandivli and the other from south Mumbai, of potential terrorists. “The Kandivli group had merely been indoctrinated and was waiting to go to Pakistan while the south Mumbai group had returned from Pakistan after training,” an ATS officer said.


Until recently, potential terrorists would simply be incarcerated for uncertain periods. But, having realised that punishment alone cannot win the war against terrorism, the ATS has started weaning them away from the path of terror by restoring their faith in the system. ATS sources say, authorities have realised that by arresting them, the State merely reinforces their misplaced sense of injustice against Muslims.

“In any case, we never get much evidence of their training abroad. Also, no one can be prosecuted merely for harbouring jihadi thoughts,” said an ATS officer.

ATS chief K P Raghuvanshi said, “Hence, after identifying such people, we counsel them. We have in place an elaborate process where we try to make them understand the futility of their supposed religious war and wean them away from their jihadi mentality. We have already reformed about 15 such people. A reformed jihadi will not only stop others from becoming terrorists, but is also a good source of intelligence. It is part of our non-combat strategy to counter terrorism.”


Once the ATS receives information about radicalised youths, they are brought to its headquarters and told to speak freely. “People don’t open up immediately, but we make them comfortable and try to understand their anger. We empathise with them and encourage them to talk openly,” said Raghuvanshi.

Once a person opens up, “we logically counter their misplaced idea of injustice and express solidarity with their genuine grievances,” said an ATS officer.

“The first problem is their belief that Muslims never get equal opportunities in India. We counter this by citing examples of successful Muslims in various sectors. We tell them how Indian democracy has given space to all religions and we have had Muslim Presidents, so many Muslim police and military officers,” said Raghuvanshi.

Secondly, many Muslims feel that they are treated unjustly by the police. “We explain that this is merely a perception. Every common man, irrespective of religion or caste, faces the same problems. Everyone is equally reluctant to visit a police station and is scared of dealing with policemen. If a policeman is helpful, he helps everyone; if he is apathetic, he is so to everyone,” said an ATS officer.


Some belligerent youths question the police about atrocities committed on Muslims during riots in various parts of the country. “Many carry photographs of the Babri masjid demolition while some have video footage of Muslims being beaten up, raped and murdered in the 2002 Gujarat riots. We tell them that such acts cannot be defended. We convince them that we are as pained about these incidents as they are and that an average Indian, irrespective of his religion, never approves of such acts,” said Raghuvanshi.

The police also exposes them to the reality of those who train them, the politics and economics of terror, and the fact that they are merely pawns in a bigger game. They are made to understand how their families, who are completely innocent, have to suffer because of them and how, despite their jihad, their religion does not benefit in any way.


The last step involves educating them about the real tenets of Islam and correct interpretation of the Holy Koran. “Many indoctrinated youths know the Koran or Islamic teachings only the way they have been taught by their trainers across the border. We get Muslim clerics here to explain to them the real meaning of Islam, which abhors killing of innocent people. When such words come from a leader of their own community, they listen carefully,” said an officer.


The strategy is proving to be of great help to the ATS in countering terrorism. Even as police helps rehabilitate them, they reciprocate by providing vital intelligence about terror activities. “Many of these people are either employed or self-employed. Those who are unemployed, we help them set up a business or get a job. We build such relationships with these people that they give us information about who in their colony or community is being contacted for indoctrination or if any sleeper module is being formed. Besides, having got their priorities right, they influence people around them and help wean away other potential terrorists,” said the officer.

By Deeptiman Tiwary

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How MHADA was scammed (Covery Story)

Mirror reporters help MHADA officials latch onto a huge housing scam where unwitting villagers were used as pawns to secure flats reserved for SC and ST tribes at throwaway prices

Villagers from Nimbade, near Panvel, couldn’t believe their good fortune when they recently received huge sums of money through cheques in the post. Still, most of them promptly deposited their windfall into bank accounts and even spent some of it on buying things they had always coveted.

Interestingly, these cheques came from MHADA, and were refunds for houses that were not allotted under their recent housing scheme.

But let’s rewind a bit…

Early in February, 17 villagers – all of whom bear the Waghmare surname, and belong to tribal families – were approached by a man called Sunil Gawade.

This person – also known as Baban – told the simpletons that they could all be winners in a government lottery if they accompanied him and filled a “lottery form”.

The men who agreed, were taken to an under-construction building in Bandra, made to sign on three empty forms, and were promptly paid Rs 1,000 each for their efforts.

Cut to Thursday, Mumbai Mirror learnt of a certain Daulat Waghmare who was wondering how he could encash his third cheque of Rs 1 lakh.

Waghmare, who works as a security guard on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, had earlier received two other MHADA cheques for Rs 1 lakh each. These he had promptly deposited.

“When I received my first cheque, I thanked the gods for helping me win the lottery. I even bought a motorcycle,” he said.

His bank, however, did not accept the third refund as his name was misspelled as Daut.

On questioning him, it was soon realised that Daulat was a mere pawn in a huge scam.

“I have not heard of MHADA and their houses. I only know that I have won a government lottery,” he said, eyes brimming with tears as soon as he realised something was amiss.

Daulat, then went on to disclose the names of others from his village who had accompanied Gawade to Bandra.

Further investigations by Mumbai Mirror revealed that Gawade was acting as a front for a certain Narendra and Lekha Sharma.

The Sharmas, it was learnt, made draft payments in the name of the villagers with the intention of procuring various houses under the MHADA scheme that was reserved for scheduled tribes.

What the scammers did not count on, however, was that the refund would reach the villagers.

MHADA officials have now approached the police to help track Gawade and the Sharmas who are absconding.

“The brains behind the scheme are currently untraceable, but we are confident that the law will soon catch up with them,” said Jawahar Singh, who is chief vigilance officer with MHADA. “We are now also checking for other scammers, who may have managed to work their way around our system. In fact, we have already begun scrutinising all the Waghmares who have been allotted flats, or are in the waiting list,” he added.

The MHADA scheme
Earlier this year, close to 4.35 lakh applications were received for just 3,863 MHADA tenements. These low-cost houses were spread across the city, from Pratiksha Nagar in Sion to Shailendra Nagar in Dahisar.

Of these, MHADA had reserved 1,830 flats for SC/ST applicants, freedom fighters, government employees, legislators and parliamentarians.

By Akela and Raju Shinde