Mumbai: The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra is planning to go ahead with a controversial scheme to build subsidised houses for members of the legislative assembly, even as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has opposed the plan.
The MVA comprises the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress, and Pawar is known to be the chief architect of the ruling alliance.
State Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, who belongs to the NCP, told ThePrint that the government will “speak with Pawar saheb, understand his opinions and take them into consideration”.
While speaking in the assembly last week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced his government’s intention to build 300 subsidised houses for MLAs who live outside the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), on a plot in Goregaon. His reasoning was that several MLAs come to Mumbai from rural areas.
The CM’s announcement, however, drew flak from not just members of the Opposition — which questioned the rationale behind building houses exclusively for MLAs, who draw a high salary and also get perks — but also legislators of the ruling MVA, some of whom have refused these houses.
According to information released by the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR), 264 or 92 per cent of Maharashtra’s 288 MLAs are crorepatis.
Each Maharashtra MLA earns Rs 2.61 lakh per month as salary, which includes basic pay of Rs 1.82 lakh and reimbursements, according to the state legislature website. Over and above that, they get perks like free transport, medical insurance, retirement pension etc.
The subsidised accommodation scheme is being worked out by the housing department, which is with the NCP.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar told mediapersons Monday that his “personal view is that the government should not construct houses for legislators”. He suggested a separate quota for legislators in houses constructed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA).
MHADA quota for legislators already exists
There already exists a separate quota for MPs, MLAs and MLCs for houses built by the MHADA. The housing authority constructs flats for economically weaker sections, lower-income, middle-income and higher-income categories across different locations in Maharashtra, and sells them at subsidised rates under a lottery system.
In the lottery, there are quotas for different categories such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, freedom fighters, journalists, artists, government servants as well as MPs, MLAs and MLCs.
In this backdrop, a decision to build 300 houses exclusively for MLAs has become a political hot potato.
Contacted by ThePrint, Awhad said the scheme is only for legislators from rural Maharashtra, and not for MLAs from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and Thane district.
“This takes away around 60-70 MLAs,” he said, adding that the details are still being worked out and the state government is yet to publish a government resolution (GR) in this regard.
He added that the cost of constructing these apartments will be an estimated Rs 70 lakh, and they will be valued at around Rs 1 crore.
Awhad further said that the houses will be given only to legislators who do not own a house in Mumbai in their name or in the name of their spouses or immediate family members.
“MLAs like Praniti Shinde and Zeeshan Siddiqui do not fit in the criteria for getting the house,” he added.
Congress’ Zeeshan Siddiqui and Praniti Shinde have been among the most vocal critics of the scheme from within the MVA. Both have refused any allotment under the proposed scheme.
Awhad and Siddiqui also had a war of words over the matter on Twitter, where Siddiqui, the MLA for Mumbai’s Bandra East, said the money could be used to build houses for those living in dilapidated conditions in his constituency.
Meanwhile, Shinde, who represents Solapur, said the funds should instead be used to build medical facilities for those coming to Mumbai from rural areas for treatment.
‘Not a new concept’
State Housing Minister Awhad told ThePrint that the concept of subsidised housing for MLAs is not new. Citing as examples Worli’s Sagar Society and Versova’s Rajyog Society, he said there have been several such projects in the past.
In 1988, the state government acquired six plots at Worli Sagar Society for MLAs and civil servants.
In 2009, the then Congress-led government also allotted houses to MLAs and MLCs not having a residence in Mumbai, at Versova’s Rajyog Society and Ashirwad Cooperative society in Andheri.
“This isn’t the first time such a scheme has been announced. Even during the times of Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan, such schemes were there. Please go and have a look at Worli Sagar and Rajyog societies,” said Awhad.
He added that under the current scheme, the state government is also mulling over whether some of the flats built can be allotted to non-MLAs.
‘Attempt to keep MLA flock together’
While the scheme is also applicable to legislators from the Opposition, the BJP has said it is a “ploy” of the MVA government to keep its flock together in the House.
“The government feels that MLAs may desert them and hence they are giving them sops. The local area development fund for legislators was increased from Rs 4 crore per year to Rs 5 crore. Many of us have houses in Mumbai,” BJP state president Chandrakant Patil told reporters at the assembly last week.
Raju Patil, the lone MLA of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), too questioned the idea last week: “Each legislator gets a salary of around Rs 3.5 lakh. Instead [of this], the government must give 200 units of power free to every household.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)