Don of the high rises: How Yusuf Patel found success

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Mumbai:  One of the shrewdest real estate dons in the Mumbai underworld, Yusuf Patel had mastered the art of creating construction space out of thin air. While slumlords extended their empire horizontally, Patel has the dubious distinction of pioneering the acquisition of illegal Floor Space Index (FSI), to send his buildings skyrocketing into space.

By the 1980s, the underworld was settling into the city's landscape, modifying it in subtle ways.

Gangs began to feed on the growth of slums, using them to find new recruits, new proving grounds and to wriggle their way into politics. The explosive growth of slums coincided with the alarming rise of organised syndicates. Gangs were offered Rs 3,000 per hut -- money which was shared by the underworld, police and civic authorities.

Patel's contemporary Vardharajan Mudaliar alias Vardhabhai collected around Rs 2 crore from the slumlords in and around Dharavi and Sion-Koliwada. Most of the collector's land along the creek was encroached upon by the don's henchmen.

While most of the gangs were providing protection to the slumlords, Patel went one step ahead and performed the feat of grabbing additional FSI illegally. The art has, since, been perfected by other dons and even builders.

Patel's FSI scam was perpetrated so subtly that it took the civic authorities 16 long years to find out that the don had tampered with land records.

Born Abdul Majid Abdul Patel, a Memon Muslim, he got involved in smuggling textiles and silver with Haji Mastan around 1963. However, the alliance did not last long because of financial disputes with the syndicate.

In 1977, Janta Dal leader Jai Prakash Narayan offered amnesty to all smugglers. Patel jumped on to the bandwagon and everybody in the underworld thought he had shunned the life of a criminal, that the docks and the goons were things of the past for him.

While others forgot his dubious past, Patel launched his own construction company and began operating from Pydhonie.

And, while the other dons were still dealing with the police, Patel began grabbing additional FSI, fetching himself multi-crore deals. A few buildings, including a hotel near Nagpada junction, were part of his deals in South Mumbai.

Everything seemed normal on the surface until an upright BMC official discovered that a large number of land records from several ward offices had been tampered with Prima facie, investigating officials discovered that Patel had manipulated the deals of two buildings in Tardeo and three in Byculla.

They would soon discover that there were 50 other cases of gross manipulation of land records, which were carried out in connivance with civic officials.

By the mid-80s, Dawood Ibrahim had also learnt the art of FSI grabbing. He brought in a team of 'white collar' associates to specialise in tampering with land records and corner the lion's share of income from real estate in South Mumbai.

Patel's keeping away from the docks and goons proved to be a blessing in disguise because when things started to get ugly in the Mumbai underworld, he managed to avoid direct confrontation with Karim Lala's nephew Samad and gangsters owing allegiance to Dawood.


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