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Cruel home trick on poor

Mumbai, Feb. 5: Several thousand labourers lined up outside the Maharashtra chief minister’s office in the past two days in the hope of applying for a low-cost housing scheme they thought was being started by the state.

Today, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told a news conference that talk of the housing scheme — that would get an economically backward person a one-bedroom flat in Powai for Rs 54,000 — was a “mischievous rumour” and that he had ordered police to find out who was behind it.

“My name was used, and I heard some of the forms were sold for Rs 100 each. I have clarified that no such scheme has been announced,” he said.

Since yesterday morning, the line of applicants outside the Mantralaya had been growing. Several people were seen distributing forms to the eager crowd. Officials in the Mantralaya got a whiff that something was amiss today and set up a help desk to explain to people that there was no housing scheme on offer.

The “rumour”, it turned out, started because of a campaign by a Republican Party of India Dalit leader, Prakash Ambedkar, and labour activist Milind Ranade.

Ranade said that in 1986, the real estate developer Hiranandani Constructions had got 230 acres of surplus land from the state, leased at the cost of 40 paise per acre. According to Ranade, the land was allotted under an exemption clause of the Urban Land Ceiling Act. The developer was to construct 50 per cent of the total flats of the size of 400 sqft, which would be for low-income groups. The rest would be flats sold at the market rate.

“But, instead of low cost homes, the builder made residential towers for high-income groups at Powai,” said Ranade, who spearheads a union for conservancy workers.

“On January 29, we took some of our people to Powai to show them the Hiranandani complex,” Ranade said.

He added that the conservancy workers who accompanied him to the complex said if the flats were meant for low-income groups, they would like to apply. Ranade said his workers circulated a form in which applicants had to declare that they were from low-income groups and wished to apply for flats in the Powai Area Development Scheme built by Hiranandani Constructions. “These people coming to Mantralaya are demanding their right,” Ranade said.

Some of the forms bore the slogan: “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath”, which made many think the Maharashtra Congress government was involved in the housing scheme.