The joke is on Kapil Sharma. No one dares to take on BMC

In Mumbai, where every inch of space is worth lakhs, one decision by a corporation official can make or break your business.

 |  4-minute read |   13-09-2016
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Kapil Sharma surely couldn't have imagined the scale of the controversy he was in for when he tweeted and complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the bribe demanded by BMC officials for the construction of his office in Andheri, a crowded western suburb of Mumbai.

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Andheri has always been a favourite among strugglers or newcomers in the entertainment industry and the first thing they learn after coming here is that if they want to live peacefully in the city, they should make the two most important government departments happy - the police and the BMC.

Kapil Sharma, who came here as a small-time comedian and went on to become a Mumbai citizen who pays Rs 5 crore worth tax to the government, should have realised their importance before going public with his blame game, especially when he carried out illegal construction to serve his vested interests. He should avoid a "panga" with the almighty BMC as the future of the unauthorised construction in his backyard is solely dependent on their approval. When you are in the wrong, you have no right to complain. That’s the rule followed here whilst much of the unapproved construction in the city is ignored.

After the Kapil episode, the question that begs asking is did he say something new? The answer is, of course, no. BMC and corruption have always gone hand in hand, and it is rare that the money that changes hands comes to surface.

Be it BMC officials or elected municipal councillors of various political parties, it’s an accepted fact that the syndicate is difficult to break. In the early years of journalism, I have been on the BMC beat. Entering the corporation's more-than-a-century-old office is surely a proud momen - not only because it belongs to the city's rich heritage, but also because of the democratic culture of Mumbai.

How BMC works is in itself a wonder - its two-lakh odd employees and 227 municipal councillors cater to an international business hub that has a population of two crores. It is a humongous task, and most decisions are made in the standing committee of the BMC: a body that every councillor wants to be part of.

The membership to the committee is so important that former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is presently in police custody in a money laundering case, chose to be a member of the committee over being a mayor.

Because the standing committee is in charge of the contracts for roads, storm water drains, city purchases and other essential operations, which means crores of money. Veteran journalists dubbed it the "understanding" committee as it is said that the decisions to award contracts are pre-decided and cuts are given to various members depending on the strength of the party.

This has never been proven, but it is not hard to comprehend the reasons behind the condition of roads in Mumbai, or the unorganised growth of Mumbai city whose development plan has always been in the discussion whenever there is water logging during the monsoon.

A veteran journalist had told me about one such meeting in the standing committee when it was decided to allow cost escalation by crores to one contractor, all the members of the standing committee had agreed to it, and what remained was only a procedure to pass it in a meeting. But the other members got word that one councillor was going to oppose the decision.

So, during the meeting, he was given a chit in his hand that said someone was waiting for him outside the committee chamber for some urgent business, and those were the days before the mobile phone. While the councillor went out to ask the person outside to wait, the other members passed the proposal in less than five minutes and no one could do anything about it.

This group of councillors was always called a syndicate (this word came in to existence in the BMC headquarters after 1979). The "syndicate" was so well known that once, when Chhagan Bhujbal along with other senior members of the standing committee visited Delhi and showed senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee a Marathi film, the latter quipped: "Arey aaj puri BMC ki syndicate Dilli aa gayee hai (the whole BMC syndicate is in Delhi today)."

Many have pointed out the rise in the financial wealth of municipal councillors and BMC officials, but it looks like no one ever paid any attention to the allegations. Those councillors who began their political journeys from humble 10*10 quarters shifted to posh flats at the end of their five-year terms, but it is an open secret that one tries to brush aside. In a city like Mumbai, where every inch of space is worth lakhs, one decision by a BMC official can make or break your business.

The anti-corruption bureau has held 12 raids at BMC office in the past year alone and arrested 20 people working for or associated with the civic body. But this is just a slice of the giant pie.

Writer

Sahil Joshi Sahil Joshi @sahiljoshii

Executive Editor, India Today TV and Aaj Tak

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