Legislators yet to vacate unsafe MLA hostel in Mumbai

Only 49 of the 336 allottees have shifted so far, according to official records. Shifting the legislators out of the premises is the first step of a multi-crore hostel revamp plan.

The Manora MLA hostel in South Mumbai has been declared unsafe to live in. But more than five months after the deadline to vacate the facility expired, authorities continue to face a tough time convincing legislators to shift out. After a slab collapsed in a room occupied by a NCP MLA last August, the authorities declared the hostel to be in a dilapidated condition. All legislators holding rooms inside the hostel were issued notices to compulsorily vacate before February 1, 2018.

However, only 49 of the 336 allottees have shifted so far, according to official records. Shifting the legislators out of the premises is the first step of a multi-crore hostel revamp plan. Despite some elected representatives and bureaucrats contending that the premises can be restored with repairs, the state government and the legislative secretariat earlier decided to go in for reconstruction, which would make way for two swanky highrise towers.

The legislative secretariat has even contracted NBCC (India) Limited, a Government of India enterprise, as project management consultant. The project is expected to cost the state exchequer anything over Rs 300 crore. The hostel, which has been in use since 1996, has four multi-storey wings, each housing 84 apartments for MLAs and six service apartments.

Those still occupying the premises remain adamant that unless they are provided an alternative accommodation or paid monthly rent to find accommodation themselves, they will not vacate. The administration had originally proposed to shift all the allottees to a government-owned building in suburban Ghatkopar, but the legislators shot it down, complaining about inconvenient location. Another option of accommodating legislators in South Mumbai hotels was also explored, but not found to be viable. So the government finally agreed to pay Rs 1 lakh per month as rent for allottees occupying bigger apartments (two rooms), and Rs 50,000 per month for those occupying the smaller ones.

But the legislators complain that the rents are yet to be paid. Legislative council chairman Ramraje Nimbalkar, when contacted, said, “The (state) government has raised a supplementary budgetary demand to meet this expense in the ongoing (monsoon) session. It will be cleared in the coming days.” As a policy decision, sources said the government has decided that allottees who vacated before the February 1 deadline would be compensated from that day, while the rest would be paid from the month of their shifting out.

Sources confirmed that some have even issued written complaints to the secretariat regarding the delay in rent payments and the difficulty faced in locating alternative accommodation.

Incidentally, records reveal that two allottees — Congress MLA Gopaldas Agarwal and MLC Shrikant Deshpande, who had originally vacated their rooms before the deadline — have now repossessed them. Agarwal, who heads the legislative Public Accounts Committee, when contacted, confirmed this. “I had shifted out before January 31. The room was unoccupied for over three months, but when I found out that the building construction work was yet to take off, I decided to reposses it. I need to come to Mumbai once or twice a week and prefer staying here. Besides one of the two rooms allotted to me is often used to house people from my constituency, who have to come to Mumbai for some urgent work,” he said.

Most of those currently staying in the dilapidated building aren’t MLAs, but those acquainted to them in one way or the other.
NCP’s Kiran Pawaskar — among the first ones to vacate — has a different viewpoint. “If you ask me, no one should stay on the premises. The buildings are unsafe and in need of urgent revamp,” he said. But BJP’s Yogesh Sagar, who hasn’t shifted out yet, said, “When there is no alternative arrangement, how can one expect the legislators to shift out.”

Even Pawaskar demanded that the government urgently release the monthly rents, especially for elected representatives hailing from rural belts so that they can make alternate arrangements. Shiv Sena’s Anil Parad echoed this viewpoint. “While those who already have their own accommodation and offices in Mumbai must shift out urgently, the government must make provisions for those hailing from rural belts,” he said. Congress’s Anant Gadgil, also among the first to vacate, agreed. He claimed that some rural MLAs had been facing difficulty in situating an alternate accommodation.

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