A few hours after publishing the story on DMC Vijay Balamwar threatening activist Tiwari for complaining about illegal construction, another update has come in from Krish. Read it for yourself. The worrying pary, of course is not that the illegal construction was demolished, or that the complaint was very effective, but the idea that sides can be taken based on beliefs that activists are deliberately causing harm, when they are using channels of ensuring the rule of law that are provided by the government.
25th July, 2013, Mumbai: FIRST THE BREAKING NEWS: According to Municipal Corporator Dilip Patel (9820175393), SBI’s unauthorized work in Juhu, which Advocate. Sunil Tiwari complained against (http://tinyurl.com/complaint-
NOW THE VIEWS: A major fault-line between different groups of activists has been opened up by our press release concerning Tiwari’s allegations that the DMC threatened him for daring to send complaints on his official email and mobile.
IS DMC Vijay Balamvar Effective or Vicious? Two opposite viewpoints:
IN FAVOUR OF BALAMVAR
(a) A senior journalist of a leading daily, called me on behalf of DMC Balamvar, after talking with him. “Be careful that you are not being used by some unscrupulous elements. Verify the truth before defaming DMC Balamvar,” she warned. (Did it hint at possible defamation proceedings? Or was that just a way of wording it?) It seems DMC Balamvar said that a corporator named Patel called him today and asked him to “settle with him if he wanted this trouble to end”. “I hope you are not risking your reputation by acting on behalf of people filing complaints for money,” she stressed.
(b) Aftab Siddiqui (firstname.lastname@example.org), a leading activist from Bandra, emailed me. With her permission, I am reproducing her email, which was cc-ed to a score of activists: “Krish, who is this adv Tiwari & complaint from which area … How well do you know him …. We, citizens of H(W/E) & K(W) ward from last 2.5 years have a one to one interaction with DMC Balamwar . We all face a lot of problem with the govt ..BUT what you have to say , I’m sure many of them will BEG to differ when to comes to DMC Balamwar .. In the lot of bureaucracy who intend to do nothing for the community in any way … There are a chosen few who try to do their best …. it was with his help that the LIC Depts various scams have been exposed.
“It was Mr Balamwar as DMC (RE) who had brought out a circular in March 2012 with stringent action against not only B/F dept but also the LO (law officer ) … he was the one who helped in bringing to light the Aarey having NO agreement with BMC ..Various issues , he has helped with in Santacruz (E) to Cynthia & the group … Infact because of his actions against the staff He was transfered from DMC (RE) post … My suggestion to you , try approaching DMC (RE) Mr Wagaralkar Sir in Byculla office on Mr Tiwari or any other NEW case… you will know what i mean ..
“In fact it was the P (N) & various other A/C’s trying to declare the buildings in C-1 category..Various A/C’s seem to be going against their DMC’s who are trying to stop the C-! category nexus. I think there must be some mistake in what you r saying …”
(c) Sherley Singh, another prominent activist from Andheri-Juhu wrote, “Hi, I am very surprised actually …. We have always had a very good experience with this DMC – and he has been very effective in immediately finding solutions for any of our issues”.
(d) One such activist today warned me on phone that dozens of “commercial complainants” were filing complaints concerning various localities, and appearing at Lokshahi Din or PG (Public Grievance) meetings at the Municipal Commissioner’s office. “The police and municipal offices have lists of so-called activists who file multiple RTI applications and complaints on many instances of encroachment, unauthorized construction etc,” I was informed. (That made me worry a bit: If the government has such lists, am I one of these? Are my close colleagues on such lists? What lists are those? And what action are the authorities advised to take with people who are on such lists? Is there a secret GR or circular about how to deal with people on various lists? Scary!)
This activist said that these were extortionists or blackmailers. The difference between extortionists and genuine RTI activists was that the former did not follow up their complaints to the “logical conclusion” and therefore had the energy and time to pursue many complaints.
(My own stand, in defense of Advocate Tiwari, Sulaiman Bhimani and other activists with whom I closely associate, is that anybody who files complaints well-supported with documents, photographs etc.– whether numerous or otherwise — cannot be deemed as an extortionist or blackmailer. Those who put information on authorized constructions etc. before the authorities, and also into the public domain, are whistleblowers rendering a valuable service to society. Municipal authorities should promptly take action against the wrongdoers; why are they wasting their energies branding the whistleblowers as “habitual complainers”, “commercial complainants” etc? And why are they threatening them for trying to uphold the law?)
(a) My close colleague, leading activist G R Vora, had this to say about DMC Balamvar in his email: “Once, about 12 years ago, an activist and myself were threatened by Mr Balamwar (then the Asstt. Mun. Commissioner of F/North ward) of getting arrested by the F/North security personnel in his cabin on the grounds that we were a security threat to him and that we had threatened him with “dire consequences”, when in fact we had been to meet him to urge him to take action against unauthorised hawkers in Sion – Matunga area. We were thrown out by the BMC security staff from his office at his behest. After a few months, Mr Balamwar (I was told that this was his first assignment in BMC) slapped a blatantly false case of “unauthorised construction” under Sec. 351 of BMC Act and threatened me with demolition of the structure. (I feel this was done to stop me from complaining to him and his superiors against his inaction and direct/indirect support to unauthorised hawkers in F/North ward). This immediately made me scramble to get my documents in order to prove that the clinic which I was practising in was indeed constructed by the landlord at the time of construction of the building itself in 1955. I had to rush to City Civil Court to get a stay on this demolition order and then prove in court that it was not illegally constructed. The Notice was quashed by the court.
“Realising that now something more needed to be done to stop me from complaining against him, he slapped another false case under MRTP Act ( u/s 53 (1) ) and threatened to demolish the clinic since there was no “change of user” document. This section empowered the Police to put me in jail if I could not produce necessary documents. Once again I had to rush to Court to get a stay on this Notice and then run around like a headless chicken to get the necessary documents to prove that my clinic was constructed (and used as a clinic) since 1958 by my landlord himself (who was a Doctor too) and then bought by me upon his retirement in the year 1991. Any authorised structure which was used for commercial purpose prior to 1962 does not require any “Change of user” document from the BMC under the BMC and the MRTP Act which the Asstt. MC was very well aware of. Yet such a false case was filed against me to cause harassment and thus deter me from complaining against him to his superiors.
“The case, slapped on me in 2001, went on till 2006 in the city-civil and sessions court, causing me immense physical and mental harassment and also great monetary loss in legal expenses and loss of business. In 2001, there was no RTI Act to procure documents from BMC offices, so the harassment and running about was all the more.
At the end the Hon’ble Judge passed the judgement that the Notices under BMC Act and later the MRTP Act were “mala fidely’ filed against me by the Astt. Mun. Commissioner.”
“Whenever citizens choose to speak up against the nexus of the this officer and the law-breakers, such municipal officers teach them a lesson by threatening them or filing false cases to deter them for exposing their nexus and dereliction of duty. Our Municipal Commissioner should take cognizance of the victimization and threat to activists and common citizens by this officer and should dismiss them from service.”
(b) Advocate Omkarnath Tiwari, another associate of activist of Sulaiman Bhimani, corroborated this by writing on his Facebook: “I have read the contents of the above article regarding behaviour of DMC Vijay Balamwar. I can point out three instances where the same DMC has acted illegally high handedly in a very rude arrogant indecent and usual behaviour more particularly I represented my clients as an advocate.”
(c) Another activist friend, Ashok Dhingreja, wrote of a similar experience with another Deputy Municipal Commissioner in 2011-12, in Andheri East. “I too faced the same. The DMC actively protected the encroacher and threatened us. Activists are being targeted by the corrupt officers in every department of which MCGM is the worst.” Ashok suggested on email that activists faced with such harassment should “(1) Lodge police complaint against the officer threatening you, preferably in form of an Affidavit (2) File an RTI Application calling for the personal file of the officer threatening you (3) Record on the mobile the discussion with the officer (be smart to to this) (4) Be happy, rather be delighted, if complaint has been filed against you with the cyber crime cell. This will nail the officer if the complaint is found true. Filing complaints is not a cyber crime anyway, particularly on the official email id’s or websites of the authorities… do not fear these complaints. Officer shall be booked for not acting on the complaints. There is no locus required to file complaints against illegal structures…” Later, Ashok admitted on phone that this was all easier said than done, as getting justice required great stamina from citizens.