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Three Ps rule Ulhas: Pelf, Politicians & Pappu

YOGESH PAWAR

March 2: Ramesh Mansukhani (name changed), a builder in Ulhasnagar, fidgets nervously, thinking of the Rs 30 lakh he has already paid corporators, civic officials, the police and local journalists to buy their silence and cooperation.

His latest venture, an unauthorised five-storey building in the Camp 4 area, now threatens to sink his profits, with every successive knock on his door from the local corporator's representative.

``I have already paid him Rs 5-10 lakh as per the going rate of Rs 125 per sq ft but he is still demanding Rs 1 lakh more. Now, I plan to negotiate with the corporator directly to find a way out,'' he says. ``It is becoming very difficult to remain in this line because after paying civic officials, police officials, corporators and local journalists for their silence, I am left with a miniscule margin,'' he sighs.

While Mansukhani begins to dither, several other builders and developers, who have made crores of rupees by bending the rules, are plain fed-up and therefore just payup.With as much as 90 per cent of the township overrun by illegal structures, there are fortunes at stake in `protection money' in Ulhasnagar. On an average, corporators in the business make about rs 5-10 lakh in extortion money, after paying their own party bosses. The 74 corporators in the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation (UMC) know this better than anybody else and are more than willing to offer builders the patronage they need to dig their heels in.

Like everything else in this teeming, congested township, the origin of corruption dates back to attempts to corner the vacant barracks set up for refugees here in 1965. Till the late 1970s, the local dadas had realised the benefits of operating in cliques and crime moved into top-gear.

Soon, two groups began to dominate, with Chiman Tejwani's gang pitted against Govind Vachani and Gopal Rajwani. Reprisal killings began after a journalist was hacked to death in August 1983.While Tejwani worked for Keemat Kalani (Pappu Kalani's uncle), the latter owedallegiance to Gop Behrani. However, when the Behranis realised they could not establish their sway over the town due to the clout of Ulhasnangar Congress district president, Dudhichand Kalani (another uncle of Pappu Kalani), they allegedly got him killed in April 1989. This led to a spate of 22 murders in five months, every slaying related to gang rivalry. The town then witnessed the rise of the then Congress councillor, Pappu Kalani, who later was elected member of the Legislative Assembly and also UMC president. After his arrest in 1992, his wife Jyoti floated the Ulhasnagar People's Party (UOO) and was installed as president in 1993.

In 1996, when the council was accorded corporation status, Gopal Rajwani fell out with the Behranis. In 1998, Rajwani was arrested under MPDA and his accomplices, Pandharianth Waringhe (a Sena corporator) and Deepak Sondhe, were also picked up under the same act. The modus operandi corporators use to plunder the builders' ill-gotten gains involves a network of shakhas andother party offices, civic officials and the police. Apart from the able support they receive from their henchmen, the local media also comes in handy as coporators use the newspapers for mud-slinging. What's more, at least 13 corporators directly or indirectly own the 96 newspapers (most of them tabloids in Hindi or Sindhi) which are published from this small township.

``Only 8-10 of them are seen on the newsstands while the others are circulated exclusively among corporators, civic and police officials ,'' reveals an official in the tehsildar's office. ``The beat mukadams of the Anti-Encroachment Department alert us when they learn of a new structure coming up,'' says the owner of a weekly tabloid. ``We then go and threaten to publish details about their structure,'' comes his candid admission.

He says depending on the area, the builder and the newspaper's clout, a deal is struck for anything between Rs 500 and Rs 5,000. He also admits that this is the only regular source of income for over 70 per centof the local journalists. For instance, in November 1998, UPP corporator and editor of Desh Bhagat, Manohar Jaiswani, was caught red-handed by the Hill Line police while accepting Rs 25,000 from another UPP corprorator, Kishore Wanwari. Wanwari's sister-in-law, Mona, is also a corporator who was featured in a series of stories which cast aspersions on her character. The Rs 25,000 was meant to silence the vilification campaign.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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