NAVI MUMBAI: There are three time zones for Navi Mumbai civic staff, so goes a joke in the corridors of the municipal headquarters at Palm Beach Road: AM, PM and TM.
‘TM time’ is when Tukaram Mundhe is in the building. The 41-year-old municipal commissioner is the man who has invited the wrath of politicians across party lines with a demolition drive. A 2005 batch IAS officer who’s been transferred eight times in the last 10 years, he’s in the eye of a storm with elected representatives ganging up and openly lobbying for his transfer.
In a bid to bring pressure on the bureaucracy, the municipal standing committee chief here, Shivram Patil of the Shiv Sena, has now suspended the panel’s work indefinitely. The excuse is the commissioner does not have time to meet corporators, but the intention seems obvious: by stalling decision-making, councillors hope to embarrass the civic administration and force them to back down in the drive against illegal constructions and misuse of public space.
Mundhe brushed off the confrontation, saying, “That is their outlook. I am here for the city’s progress and will do my work accordingly.” But eyebrows are being raised about the blatant manner in which some politicians are trying to browbeat officials in charge of running the satellite city.
“Suspending the standing committee has never happened in the 24 years since Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NNMC) was established,” said RTI activist Sandeep Thakur. Citizens are now rallying around the civic chief with street protests and online campaigns. The IAS officer who hails from a rural family in Beed district in Maharashtra has clearly struck a chord.
Mundhe cracks the whip without fear or favour. He’s suspended ten municipal officers for malpractices and dereliction of duty. He has also insisted on making civic staff punctual and presentable; the liftman at the NMMC headquarters was one of the first to get a dressing down for not displaying his ID card.
In the same vein, he has attempted a clean-up by ordering action against those vandalizing public property by sticking posters or misusing road space by illegally parking buses. Among those who felt the heat was ex-corporator Santosh Shetty, who owns a large fleet of private buses. Shetty complained that Mundhe had imposed “exorbitant” parking charges of Rs 100 per hour in prime areas.
But the real opposition to Mundhe is over the use of executive powers to raze illegal structures in the gaothan areas in NMMC limits. The gaothans are the old neighbourhoods which co-exist alongside the planned sections of Navi Mumbai. There are about 15,000 illegal structures in the gaothans, of which government last year promised to regularize those built before Dec 2012.
When NMMC sent over 250 notices on illegal constructions (including one to the family of sitting BJP MLA Manda Mhatre), alarm bells started ringing. A bandh was held on July 18, backed by politicians of every persuasion. Mhatre then raised the issue in the ongoing session of the assembly, while complaining that Mundhe had kept her waiting for hours outside his office.
Navi Mumbai mayor Sudhakar Sonawane told TOI: “He cannot work like an autocrat. Although I am the mayor, he still has not met me since he joined NMMC.” Sonawane is also critical of the ‘Walk with the Commissioner’ events that Mundhe holds on weekends to listen to people’s civic complaints. “He has to be logical and not whimsical,” said Sonawane.
However, as RTI activist Anarjit Chauhan said, “People are sick and tired of corruption. Mundhe is throwing the rule book back at politicians. If he is transferred, the city may be back to square one with illegal hawkers, constructions, public encroachments and more slums.”
Credits ET Realty