In a prime case that highlights how politicians use their influence to help the rich and mighty, an internal communication between two senior civic officials (a copy of which is with dna) mentions how the civic body has failed to take action against erring hoteliers in R-Central and R-North (Borivli and Dahisar) wards as "the moment intended action is started, MLA Gopal Shetty jumps in to oppose it". Shetty, the area's sitting MLA, is contesting in the Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket.
As per the official e-mail written by a BMC ward officer to municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte, the health department, at the initiation of RTI activist SK Nangia, tried to recover the legitimate fee from hoteliers who are illegally using the open space in front of their eateries for customer services. However, every time they tried to take action, Shetty intervened to protect them, the ward officer alleged.
"The medical health officer (MOH) of the two wards revealed that MLA Gopal Shetty will oppose any intended action. I (the ward officer) made him (MOH) understand that he should let us dutifully complete our work. He agreed and served notices to the hoteliers concerned. However, the MOH's fear came true as MLA Shetty and chairperson of the two wards' committee Manisha Chaudhary held a meeting of hoteliers in the ward office to protest the MOH's move. The MLA announced in the meeting that the charge for using the open space, declared by the civic body in 2001 as Rs600-odd per sqm per annum, is not affordable and, hence, not acceptable," reads the communication.
The e-mail also says that despite an attempt, efforts to add legitimate revenue (expected to be a few crores per annum) to the municipal corporation's treasury didn't succeed.
When contacted, Shetty said the fee imposed by BMC on the hoteliers is three times more than the normal licence fee. "BMC has to amend the rule, or else the hoteliers will continue to default. Why should anyone pay such a hefty fee to BMC for running an eatery in an open space which belongs to the eatery owners? I have written several letters to BMC apprising them that the rule has to be amended," Shetty told dna.
The MLA also suggested that BMC is sitting over the amendment as its officials take kickbacks from the hoteliers to allow them to continue serving in open spaces.
Despite repeated calls and messages, Kunte remained unavailable for comment.
While the above case highlights the reality in these two wards, a recent RTI query has revealed that the city has over 146 eateries that are either illegally using the open space outside their restaurants without procuring licences from BMC or indulging in violations, causing the exchequer an estimated loss of Rs30-40 crore a year.
Nangia claimed that the policy that allows city eateries to use the open space outside their shops has loopholes, which makes it convenient for them to cheat the exchequer in connivance with BMC officials.
Repeated RTI applications/complaint letters by Nangia, however, have failed to awaken the authorities who still to pass his letters from one department to another. His latest, ie March, complaint was sent back by the municipal commissioner to the same officer who has been sitting on it for nine months.
"The sad part is that the system does not hold the officers responsible for negligence or accountable for these irregularities. Despite all the data, no action is being taken against the erring eateries or the errant officials," said Nangia.
Law on the use of open spaces
BMC's public health department vide its circular dated October 10, 2001, decided to allow licensed eateries the use of open spaces in front of their premises as commercial service area. The facility is to be allowed on payment of a prescribed fee as Trade Services Area Operation Charge as well as deposit of security money. It is also subject to compliance with certain conditions:
a) Service area shall not be covered on top with permanent arrangement
b) Cooking/preparation of eatables shall not be allowed in the open space area
c) Fast-food stalls/ice cream parlours/paan bidi stalls are not permitted in the open space
The RTI query reveals...
1,101 eateries across Mumbai are using the open space in front of their premises for service purpose
103 eateries are using the space without permission
43 eateries have violated terms and conditions
(Activists pursuing the matter question the figures provided by BMC)