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Criticism of Ajit Kumar Doval's appointment as National Security Advisor has led to a dangerous new propaganda initiated by Modi supporters. They claim that Doval had to create Chhota Rajan to counter Dawood Ibrahim creating some kind of romantic fiction of the flawed hero who steps over to the dark side for a good cause. Sells his soul so that yours may remain in tact, etc. This couldn't be further from the truth. Chhota Rajan isn't a creation of India's intelligence agencies, he's a gangster and a one time crony of Dawood Ibrahim who became a rival. Dawood Ibrahim became untouchable after the Mumbai blasts, but had merry patronage of politicians as well, including the oh-so-patriotic Shiv Sena (remember the others who got guns from the same source, though Sanjay Dutt alone got arrested for it?).

Gang rivalry led to intel on rivals to security agencies, not patriotism. Chhota Rajan wasn't exactly going to volunteer and die when Dawood's men attacked him if Dawood had been a patriotic gangster. Nor did IB exploiting the rivalry for law enforcement mean that the side that got used was somehow noble. We are talking extortion rackets, bloody gun battles, smuggling, extortion, drug trade, kidnapping, murders and more signature characteristics of Mumbai's underworld, not a Hindi film script, though those too are known to be sponsored by gangsters. Perhaps film producers are patriotic in accepting black money too.

Here is a quick reminder of what is getting glamorized and whitewashed into BJP's invented war of good gangster and evil gangster - it is as fake as "good Taliban and bad Taliban".

There is no such thing.

The Dark Face of Mumbai

By Prabhat Sharan

25 October, 2010
The Verdict Weekly

Blood stained brown gold and mean streets of Mumbai housing mafia and Mumbai underworld

It was business as usual in the infamous Kamathipura lane - prostitutes were busy preparing for the long night that laid ahead, the pimps were luring customers to the buildings, and the lanes thronged with people on sundry errands. On that June evening Kamathipura had an unusual visitor: Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Prem Kumar Sharma and his family, who had come to celebrate his daughter’s success at the intermediate examination with a dinner at the famous Delhi Durbar restaurant.

Scarcely had Sharma got down from the car that the waiting assailants pumped bullets into him. The din of the street drowned out the pistol shots, and it was only after his wife and daughter started screaming hysterically that the passers-by came to the rescue of the family. By then it was already too late: the BJP MLA was dead and the assailants had escaped in the ensuing confusion. Subsequent police investigations traced the cause of the murder to dubious land deals in south-central Mumbai. The murder shook the city, even as the police after the serial bomb blasts had claimed to have broken the spine of the criminal syndicates. This was in 1993.

Three years later in April, the picture of respectability that the Kukrejas had created for themselves was suddenly torn apart, much to the dismay and bewilderment of the real estate developers in Mumbai. On that hot sultry afternoon the tinted glass walls of the Kukrejas’ Chembur office in north-east Mumbai was spattered with blood as three visitors took out their guns and sprayed a sleeping Om Prakash Kukreja with bullets.

Om Prakash had only joined the elite circle of real estate developers and builders, men who fashion their dreams in steel and cement, raising skyscrapers to accommodate a growing population and pocketing millions in the process. The killing of Om Prakash Kukreja did indeed send a ripple of shock in the city.

Eight years later: Land developer and builder - Suresh Wadhwa in the rain drenched satellite town Navi Mumbai was sitting in his office and three persons sauntered in his office and saturated his plush office walls with bullet holes. Wadhwa escaped by ducking under his mahogany table. After a long respite, the builders lobby has once again been shocked out of its stupor. The down in the dumps real estate business, is once more looking up optimistically and the organised criminal syndicates ever on a lookout has slowly started uncoiling its tentacles once more in the city. But despite the shock waves unleashed by a series of attacks on developers in the city coupled with a grim realisation that very soon they are going to be the main targets the business goes on as usual for the developers. And why not?

Mumbai is a city where the land is scarce, the resources unlimited, the greed simply insatiable - a few dead bodies is considered worth the money raked in by those involved in land grabbing and illegal constructions - both in and around the city.

However, transgressions of laws means the network must be spread far and wide. Unscrupulous real estate developers could only work in the shadow of the gun, and the link with the underworld was gradually formed. Soon the dividing line between the two became blurred. They needed protection from the police and politicians were drafted in, obviously in exchange for a substantial cut.

It was sooner or later bound to blow up in the face of the politician. And it did with the alleged murder of Ramesh Kini whose dead body was left behind in an empty cinema hall. A wailing widow’s allegation of foul play saw the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pick up Bal Thackeray’s nephew, Raj Thackeray, for questioning. The show in the city of dreams had truly begun.

The one worrisome question perpetually dogging those sloshed with slush funds is: Where and how to launder the ill-gotten wealth so as to convert black into white? Export-import businesses and films are the obvious avenues. The films with their overseas rights, during the late nineties and early 21st century cleaned a substantial chunk of tainted money, which saw the film stars and film producers grabbing headlines not for their celluloid impact but for their links with criminal syndicates.

However, both films as well as import-export businesses simply lack the one unique property real estate in Mumbai boasts of - the losses are rare and minimum, and the initial investment multiplies at an astonishing rate, every year, even during the economic crashes.

This factor saw the convergence of interests of both the criminal syndicates and the real estate developers, and the connection forged between the two in the Fifties and Sixties gradually tilted in favour of the city’s dreaded gangsters. In the Eighties, the new generation of criminals began to use their formidable muscle power to grab prime plots of land for themselves. This had two distinct advantages: Not could they launder money profitably but also sport the veneer of ‘respectable’ land developers.

Earlier, in the Fifties and Sixties, smugglers like Walcott, Gawandi Ram, Gafoor Supariwalla, Ibrahim Patel, Haji Mastan, and Sukur Narain Bakhia had a profile and lifestyle completely different from their ambitious successors of today. They were swashbuckling adventurers who lived their lives, as if there was no tomorrow. Their dreams had limits, their desire for wealth a certain proportion.

But soon the situation changed rapidly: The world of crime became more organised, the technology of killing more sophisticated and modern, the structure of the underworld decidedly more corporate and the inter-gang relationship chillingly more interpersonal. They were now eager to compete and, as it is true of the corporate world, each perceived the other as potential rival. More significantly, the crime syndicates were prowling about the bustling city in search of new and profitable ventures.

Paucity of land goaded the syndicates into eyeing the Congress Government’s decision to reclaim Backbay, and the nexus between gang leaders and the political class soon came to the fore. The then Opposition leader Mrinal Gore moved the court against the VP Naik Government’s proposal to sell plots in Backbay at a price in excess of the prevailing market rates. Gore won the case, but lost the war, the politicians and gangsters were now willing to strike a deal.

The hegemony of the Congress obviously meant the Congressmen had the largest share of the booty. But the Shiv Sena, hitherto lagging behind was taking a different route: it decided to exploit the grassroots terrorism and fight the civic elections to control the bureaucracy. And it did this with enviable success.

The nexus between the political class and the criminal syndicates changed the profile of land developers and builders. The pipe-smoking real estate speculators and developers were replaced by a new crop of builders like Lokhandwala, Raheja, Dr Maker and Rizvi. To this list could be added the names of dreaded smugglers like Umar Malbari, Manu Narang, Gafoor and Ibrahim Supariwalla.

These men had only one thing in common - political patronage. If Dr Maker had the support of the Congress, then Yusuf Patel, Manu Narang, Gafoor Supariwalla could bank on Rajni Patel. Thus, both the political class and the underworld were neatly split, every camp attempting to carve out its own turf and guard it zealously against poaching. This laid the foundation for a gang war that was to shake the city more than a decade later.

The syndicate entered the arena dramatically. On a wintry December night of 1979, the congested Belassis road was suddenly engulfed in fire; high flames leapt out of the stables that lined the road: hundreds of horses neighed to death, and the fire brigade mysteriously failed to reach the spot in time.
Yusuf Patel later erected buildings on the ashes.

He was not alone. Smuggler Manu Narang was already going haywire with constructing buildings and hotels. The message had gone home loud and clear, and scores of small-time builders and contractors were making a beeline for the offices of smugglers like Manu Narang, Vardrajan Mudaliar—seeking investment as well as help for grabbing land and evicting legitimate tenants.

Vardrajan Mudaliar, though a wharf king, taught the embryonic world of criminal syndicates the importance of grabbing the land, housing the mushrooming slums. Even though his reign period was small, he also drove home the importance of developing contacts with influential men and use of the police force through tipping them on the whereabouts of small-time lackeys of the crime world as well as the use of the media.

One of these small-timers learnt the lesson well and soon emerged as the most dreaded person in the construction business. He was Arvind Dholakia, a scrap cloth dealer and errand boy for smuggler Supariwalla. The latter helped his disciple to parachute into the building industry. Arvind Dholakia emerged as the city’s most sought after builder.

But Arvind and his bother Mahesh went a step further: They moved into the hotel business and effectively used the cover to start pick-up joints. Slip Disc, Hotel Ceasar’s Palace and Fishermen’s Wharf entitled the Dholakias to establish their monopoly over the flesh trade and develop contacts among the city’s bigwigs hungry for exciting night outs on the sly.

In the early Eighties, with Vardarajan Mudaliar’s power on wane, the Dholakias were no doubt firmly entrenched, but were gradually feeling the heat in the underworld rivalry. Dawood Ibrahim had arrived; he was the new contender who wanted the mantle of the undisputed Godfather.

In the political arena a fresh alignment was being worked out between the then Chief Minister AR Antulay and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who was soon to realise that charismatic power could match, or even be deadlier than the formidable clout of the underworld.

The new phase in the war was inaugurated with Chief Minister Sharad Pawar’s decision to de-reserve land in the western suburbs of the city. A mad rush ensued, but the first to establish his sway over the new turf was Sharad Shetty alias Anna. Once, a ‘stockist,’ of Dawood’s contraband, Shetty was receiving huge amounts from builders, wishing to enter the construction business there.

This only escalated the rivalry between the Dholakias and Dawood, and blood spill was inevitable. Mahesh Dholakia was the first victim of the war; he was shot dead on the neon-lit swanky Peddar Road. There could now be no hope of truce.

But so strong is the lure of land in Mumbai that is has the potential of driving a wedge in even the powerful and tightly knit gang empire. Thus, Dawood’s most trusted hit man Rama Naik, who controlled the eastern side of Central Mumbai, staked his claim to a plot in the far-flung Jogeshwari area. His problem was that Sharad Shetty too had similar designs. The Jogeshwari slums were cleared off in just 12 hours, but the gunmen of neither of the dons were willing to back out.

This war was a classic case for the intervention of the Godfather. Dawood interceded on behalf of Sharad Shetty, and his monolith empire split vertically. The subsequent gunning down of Rama Naik in a police ‘encounter,’ saw Arvind Dholakia who had started developing Mahakali, Andheri and Jogeshwari change his allegiance; he began financing the Arun Gawli mob to keep Dawood at bay.

The first big blow in this new round was delivered by Gawli; his trusted aide Ashok Joshi intercepted Satish Raje’s car in the busy Byculla crossing, smashed his head with a hammer mowing him down with bullets.

The murder of Raje infuriated most members of the Dawood gang for an important reason: He was their finance man who kept the account of benami transactions as well as investments in the real estate and other lucrative ventures for laundering black money.

The reaction of Raje’s murder drew the battle lines afresh - Amar Naik and Arun Gawli struck a deal, promised not poach on each other’s territories, and joined hands to strike at Dawood’s empire. The builders as well as the small fries of the organized crime world thought it prudent to jump on the Dawood’s bandwagon.

What about the political class? Changing political equations saw the political parties revise their strategies. A major chunk of Shiv Sena took the side of Dawood Ibrahim. But in the underworld, allegiance to money and turf predominates, and Shiv Sena MLA Vithal Chavan was gunned down precisely for this reason - he fell out with Dawood’s mobster, Guru Satam (who later left the folds of Dawood), over the issue of sharing the spoils of the protection racket that they were running together in eastern-central Mumbai.

The Dawood-Sena link, firmly established in the early Nineties, came under the increasing strain of Hindutva politics of Bal Thackeray. His diatribes against the Muslims needed a visible symbol and Dawood, who had fled to the safer confines of Dubai, was one easy target he could easily exploit. Indeed, charisma could be pitted against gun-power and capture of the State machinery could provide a clout sufficient enough to match the arsenal of the dreaded underworld don as well as challenge the hegemony of the Congress.

Thackeray could be reckless, never mind the fact that a substantial chunk of Sena corporators owed allegiance to Dawood. For one, the Amar Naik-Gawli pact had weakened Dawood, who found that ruling the crime world through remote control was not quite the same as being there on the scene. And then came the serial bomb blasts, the disclosure of Dawood’s role the planning of it, overnight changed the scenario for the mafia king dramatically. The Dubai-based don was now a liability whom only a foolhardy politician would court.

It was probably the new political equation that saw some of the Sena corporators assert their independence---and pay dearly for it. So BJP MLA Prem Kumar Sharma was bumped off because he allegedly tried to take a lion’s share in the spoils of illegal constructions. Soon Shiv Sena MLC Ramesh More was killed by Chhota Rajan’s (a long-time Dawood’s crony who later branched out into a formidable independent branch) men who wanted to establish their own protection racket in the discos and pubs located in the western suburbs of the city.

The Shiv Sena, once the wind started blowing in its favour, openly patronized Amar Naik and even gave tickets to its relatives to fight the municipal corporation elections. It probably had little option. For, with Gawli leaving the Shiv Sena fold after Chhagan Bhujbal joined the Congress, the Shiv Sena had to woo Amar Naik lest it was deprived of firepower and support of the lumpen elements who ruled the roost in the central Mumbai.

It was due to this nexus that the Shiv Sena-BJP Government maintained a deafening silence over the killing of industrialist Sumit Khatau, which was linked to the controversy over the multi-crore Khatau mill land. Nothing could be more eloquent testimony to the political patronage extended to the underworld - and all for a land in a city teeming with millions.

The collapse of the smuggling rackets, due to the liberalization policies juxtaposed with the crunch in the real estate business and serial bomb blasts, brought the chinks in the monolithic empire to fore and gangsters desperately seeking legitimacy by hobnobbing with film stars, doling out interviews to the media to keep their clout alive.
Notwithstanding the oft-repeated claims of the Mumbai police of destroying the mafia through encounters of small-time hoodlums, the organized criminal syndicates itself had gone into hibernation. The law-enforcing agencies know this fact very well, and several of them used this as a cover to their own nefarious activities.

And the wheel continues to rotate. Wherever and whenever elections are round the corner and political parties need campaign funds, builders, developers and land grabbers all poise themselves to extract concessions from the political parties.

The result: A boom in the real estate. With substantial tainted money floating in the city needing to be cleaned, the hydra-headed organized criminal syndicates, rear its head spitting blood and fire. And since in the organized crime chessboard, names and personalities do not matter, the turf-war clashes continue. No peace, no lasting truce for the players. And Mumbai continues to grope in the darkness of an endless night.

The author is a senior journalist, writing on environment, issues, labour and human rights, politics and crime. He may be contacted at theverdict@sify.com


It is all over the media. Unsuspecting, well educated residents of an upscale locality are losing their homes over something that is "not their fault". The builder didn't tell them that their flats were illegal, etc. Media loves this shit. More! Plight of people like us sells!!! More importantly, plight of people like us is registered as plight, instead of "municipal administration problem".

The residents have run campaigns, done protests, parked their vehicles to obstruct the BMC, and at last news, rioted. Political parties have bridged their differences and come to the need of their voters, led by Milind Deora, who is convincing people that illegal construction is really not such a big deal, and like all other illegal constructions, this one must be allowed too.

Over 90% of the articles fail to mention the name of the builder who built the illegal floors, "Yusuf Patel", so let's get that mentioned upfront, because this part of the issue is not disputed at all.

And now the Supreme Court has extended the demolition date to 31st May 2014.

And we also give media sound bytes on request that we want a corruption-free society, and how it is up to each one of us to fight corruption. Wondering if Campa Cola residents joined any protest march themselves.

No one is debating that the building is illegal. It was build on industrial land by Yusuf Patel, who also happened to have major clout and underground connections (also supplied silver ingots for smuggling that were adulterated with lead to underworld don Haji Mastan). Then the FSI was for five floors, but he went ahead and kept building up (and not for the first time). One building Midtown is 20 floors, the other, Orchid is 17 floors. No one is disputing that this is illegal.

The residents have ignored a Supreme Court order to vacate 102 flats within a 41 day period provided and barricaded themselves in the compound.

protesters from campa cola building facing demolition
Campa Cola compound residents protest - Image: Indian Express

This is a method. Builder builds an illegal building. Political connections keep it from being demolished. Builder sells flats cheap. People buy illegal housing because it is cheap and because it is practically tradition to get the government to regularize it for "humanitarian considerations". This does not change the fact that it is illegal. The idea that you buy cheap flats in a posh locality and get them converted into extremely high priced real estate on regularization is neither new nor something you can count on the government catering to. Illegal is illegal. Asking for leniency because you counted on government inaction is absurd. Political parties supporting such a demand is even more absurd.

The real question comes in the role of our upright citizens who are pleading innocence now. The claim is that they did not know the building is illegal and are now being evicted. They have been fighting for their "rights" since 2005.

Here's the deal. No one has a right to live in an illegal construction. So the "fight" was essentially to get an illegal construction regularized by getting the state to make an exception for them from the law. Milind Deora goes ahead and helpfully points out how this is routinely done, since the concept of politicians upholding the law is usually seen as inferior to the concept of politicians doing whatever people ask them to and earn goodwill (read votes) at the cost of laws.

Except for some reason it is not working, and the case went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court too ordered the demolition.

But how true is this melodrama?

The Supreme Court verdict on the case states that the residents knew that the building was illegal.

"Although the members of the housing societies knew that the construction had been raised in violation of the sanctioned plan and permission for occupation of the buildings had not been issued by the competent authority, a large number of them occupied the illegally constructed buildings."

Architect Jayant Tipnis testified in court that he had warned the residents several times. He has also confirmed this in media (our real courts) and said that the BMC could have halted the construction too.

"The construction of the building and the six units started without a commencement certificate. I was brought in to ensure that plans were approved and the FSI allowed. The BMC did issue stop-work notices. But it stopped at that, so the constructions continued and the developers even covered the stilt area and sold it to a reputed advertising agency who then wanted me to get it regularised, Of course it could not be done," recalled Tipnis.

As engineers, on an average, had a three-year tenure at the building proposals department, they preferred to look the other way rather than take up demolition of illegal constructions in the city, said Tipnis.

The 70-year-old architect was already working with Patel handling his other building sites at Nagpada when he was called to take up the Campa Cola project. "Patel had turned a new leaf. He was no longer in the smuggling business, but his reputation remained. Had the BMC not been afraid of his reputation and carried out some demolition, the illegal floors would not have been constructed,"

Chandrashekhar Prabhu, urban expert (whatever that means) told CNN-IBN

“This was an industrial plot. Industrial plots were not being permitted to be used for residential purpose. The developer was an underworld don and he managed his way through the government and the politicians. Even in 1986-90, this was a sham and this building ought not to come there. The water came from tankers and there was no water connection…and the residents were aware of that."

But the basic thing is that the residents had the opportunity to present arguments about their innocence several times in court and they failed to convince. D Jeykar, representative of the residents admits she knew the flat was not legal, but says that buying under construction flats is legal, so they thought it was okay. This seems to imply that investing in any under construction project is potentially illegal, which is not true.

Apart from this, even if they knew the building was constructed illegally, their moving into the flat without Occupation Certificates was still illegal and done with full knowledge, no?

The residents allege that their society is being singled out for demolition out of the many illegal buildings because it is a conspiracy:

“Krishna developers which has bought over the rights from Pure Drinks, wants to construct a five-star hotel here. He wants us out. Another plush residential complex is coming up around 500 metres from here and that builder wants a stretch of our land to construct a good approach road,” said Mr. Sacheti.

Knowing India, this is probably true as well, though it is a bit unbelievable that any investor will want to raze residential accommodation for a road.

Equally concerning is the complete lack of action against the builders. The residents are fighting to get a property purchased illegally at cheaper rates (one third of the price, going by some reports) converted into legal prime real estate in Mumbai. There does not seem to be any attempt by the residents to charge the builder for fraud and demand their investment back - which would be logical. One has to wonder why they must insist on an illegal structure being made legal instead of getting their rightful money back and investing in a legal structure? Obvious thought comes to mind is that it may be tough if they knowingly purchased an illegal structure. It is also a little difficult to imagine educated people purchasing a property at a third of the price and not finding out why it is on sale so cheap. Not like people who buy flats look at only one flat and buy it, so difference in rates, even if not advertised, would be evident.

Why are the government authorities not taking action against the builder?

Deafening silence. Not even aware of reporters asking these questions to anyone. It seems the underworld "of the past" is alive and well.

Nor is anyone asking for official answers on:

“We do not agree that the floors are illegal. We have been paying property tax for years now. At best, there is irregularity. Why did the government accept tax from us if our structures were illegal?” asked 42-year-old resident Vijay Mirani.

It is the natural process of occupying illegal accommodation. Get a lot of papers "proving" it is legal. The question is how is proof of residence done? How does the first piece, that gets used for "proving" other things made? We come right back to corruption in the system that can allow you to do these things. Or perhaps simple greed that waives verifications when it comes to getting money. "If someone is paying, they must be legal, right?"

Everyone seems to agree that it is important to punish the builder and not the buyer, but no one seems to have touched the builder at all. Residents have not tried to get him to refund their fraudulently obtained investment, politicians aren't saying anything on what they will do to the builder, even as they are wiping the tears of the residents.

In my view, regularizing the building will be a very bad precedent for dealing with the illegal construction in the city. It will make the BMC's job more difficult. I also abhor this practice of overturning Supreme Court decisions on the streets.

It is a tough situation and one of many we will face with a past of rampant lawlessness and attempting to move to a law abiding future. Many things seeded in the past will result in people doing illegal things fully expecting that they are "all right". The question is if we hold firm, or if we make exceptions when people engineer them. If we make exceptions, there remains no ethical basis for not making exceptions for those who cannot command massive attention. Which brings us back to the lawless 1980s.

The only hope seems to be to stay firm, but also prevent a sense of "being targeted by the law".

In my view, nothing can fix the loss of losing prime real estate you had hoped to get (but had no real right to) and it is a loss that comes with gambles like this. But what needs to be done is to take a more robust view of this situation and ensure that the residents are not the only wrongdoers paying the price simply because they are living where the law strikes.

There is a need to take legal actions against the builders (who have constructed many such buildings). There is a need to pull up the BMC on why it did not stop the construction itself instead of merely issuing a few notices and shutting up. It is important to note that engineers in musical chair transfers may not want to risk going up against powerful people and prefer to simply kick the can down the street for someone else to handle when they are transferred. This can be prevented with proper procedures and time directives so that BMC is legally required to act on illegal construction within a certain period of it coming to their attention.

The BMC should also be forced to compensate the residents for their role in perpetuating the myth that the illegal building was okay to live in. This likely cannot exceed the "legal" land rates in the area, which will be another insight on the black market around property dealings, which is for another day.

The BMC also needs to immediately start moving on the other illegal constructions and ensure that this is established as a clear process rather than a one off targeting of a society because they asked for more water or some builder the BMC is in cohoots with wanted to build a project and they were in the way.

Now that the Supreme Court has stayed the demolition, it may perhaps be an opportunity for the government to mitigate the sense of targeting around the demolition and take concrete actions that make the loss bearable to the citizens in the sense of being a part of history of a new era of legal accommodation in Mumbai.

Note: Several people have pointed out that the builder Yusuf Patel is dead and his sons are avoiding. i don't see how this is relevant to the story, since the building business didn't die with him. The liability of the builders should still be there. At least the Supreme Court thinks so, since its elaboration of its stay on the demolition includes a directive to prosecute the builders.