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

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