ROMF / Lok Housing Scam

  There is a mail regarding my earlier job, trying to smear and throw muck. While, I recognize every individual’s right to do the same, I feel very violated and dirty within. That the mail was sent by someone who knows me, but who did not feel it worthwhile to ask me nor clarify has left a poor taste. But, then once I joined the IAC movement, I should have anticipated that there would be attacks – sometimes from foes and sometimes from friends :). This Diggy Raja kind of muck throwing is like a chinese whisper with the person using innuendos, lies, half truths and twisting facts. What do you defend against? Noone is around, noone is found and one is left sword fighting in the air. He has thrown mud, now one has to keep on defending and clearing off, but the dirty marks on your reputation always remaining.  But, Annaji said “Lathi, Goli khana hai”. So, let it come :). Just stating things as I know it.

I was an independent Director in Lok Housing till I resigned in Aug ’11 and also the secretary of Remaking of Mumbai Federation (a NGO) where also I resigned in Aug ’11, due to my involvement in the IAC cause. 

It was in end of 2006 that my uncle, Lalit Gandhi asked me to join his company Lok Hsg to work on an idea that he had for redevelopment of Mumbai inner areas using the cluster process. He had been moved and inspired when over 4 buildings fell and around 100 people died in this collapse. Overall there has been over 700 deaths due to the collapse of some of these thousands of buildings, which were very old. Also, redevelopment of individual buildings was a bad idea, because it led to tremendous strain on infrastructure and only encouraged few feasible buildings’ redevelopment. At the time of getting this offer of a job, I was working in the social sector and was involved with many NGOs for betterment of life at the policy level. I looked on this offer to propagate cluster development as the only solution to save Mumbai and as an opportunity to do good work at the grass root level and change the lives of lakhs of people.
So, an NGO called Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF) was formed, and i became its hon secretary. Its purpose was to propagate the concept of holistic planning of Mumbai. We suggested that inner city of Mumbai be planned in an integrated and holistic manner by a public private corporation called City Planning and Monitoring Company (CPMC). With the help of master planners, the city should be divided into various clusters and Sector-by-Sector Development Scheme (SSDS) should be created by auctioning each sector and CPMC should plan and monitor the implementation of the same. Many eminent people and groups joined the federation and later some left due to variety of reasons. We used the process of advocacy with the urban development and Municipal corporation for holistic and integrated urban development. This led the UD to suggest to us to take up one sector and show us the efficacy of the model that we were suggesting. RoMF used mass awareness and debates, as well as presentations with various stakeholders, to partially convince them of the proposal. As a result of this, the government came out with its Housing Policy which talks about the cluster development concept and also DCR 33(9) for cluster development. This NGO was funded by Lok Housing as its Chairman Lalit Gandhi was a passionate proponent of good, international development of Mumbai. He used to say “Mumbai at the crossroads – disaster or a world class city?
To show the efficacy of the development model, we had to demonstrate a sustainable commercial model. Thus, a commercial company, Remaking of Mumbai Housing Infrastructure and Finance Ltd (ROMHIF) was formed. It worked with the tenants and all stakeholders to get their consents for redevelopment by ROMHIF in 30 acres properties in Chira Bazar. This was in end of 2008. The DCR 33(9) was not yet passed but was being discussed. In absence of a proper format, ROMHIF took the consents of the tenants on plain paper. After the DCR was passed, ROMHIF approached the High Power Committee (HPC) for a Letter of Intent (LOI) to redevelop this 30 acres. This was not accepted as the HPC said that the consents was not in the correct format. ROMHIF argued that there was no format then, nor was there one now. While the HPC appreciated our work and concept, it did not issue a LOI. 
ROMHIF needed to purchase buildings and re-present a case for redevelopment and therefore it made a Joint Venture development agreement with Unity Developers to redevelop the area. ROMHIF asked for a certain amount as premium for the works that it had done from Unity, including the plain paper consents. While earlier Unity was interested in 30 acres redevelopment, it changed its view to redevelopment of 5 acres only. This was a legitimate business deal, for ROMHIF to charge for intellectual or intangible activity.
Along with Unity, ROMHIF again approached the HPC and convinced them that to go back to so many tenants for the consents would be difficult. HPC was requested to issue a provisional LOI, so that within a period of 9 months,  70% consent of the tenants in the right format would be obtained. The HPC found this reasonable and forwarded to the UD. The UD stated that while the consents were in the name of ROMHIF, the new application was in the name of the Joint venture company and asked the HPC to reply on their queries and suggested that ROMHIF be given just 3 months to get the consents in the correct format.
I have read some mails which says that ROMF took the consents and ROMHIF took commercial advantage.  All consents were taken by ROMHIF only. 
I still believe that this was a great project and would have changed the face of Mumbai and saved the lives of many. I also believe that this was legitimate activity, no tenants were misled, no corruption was indulged in, no profits were received, a good housing policy and regulation was introduced. If ever the project sees the light of day, it would be a great day for the city.  I felt sad to leave the Federation, due to my preoccupation with the India against Corruption movement.
I have offered to discuss and explain each and every aspect of the project and its legitimacy to anyone who would like to know the truth.
Article by Mayank Gandhi

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