Arvind Kejriwal's close aide accused of dubious role in Mumbai land deal

Arvind Kejriwal's close aide accused of dubious role in Mumbai land deal
Mumbai: This evening, Arvind Kejriwal, rookie politician, has promised to out another powerful person who, in his opinion, needs to explain dubious deals that leveraged the person's considerable influence. When asked if today's target is BJP president Nitin Gadkari, as suggested by some of Mr Kejriwal's aides, the former income tax officer said "There is no need for the BJP or any politician to worry. In this country, they all get away scot free.  No action is taken against them."

Meanwhile, one of his closest aides, Mayank Gandhi, who is based in Mumbai has been accused of graft by other activists.

Since he launched his political party earlier this month with a promise to expose and combat corruption, Mr Kejriwal has been seen  in some circles as a Congress-baiter, a title he has rejected, arguing that his fight is against venality in all political parties.  He launched a high-decibel campaign against businessman Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for having received sweetheart deals from real estate giant DLF.  In return, he alleged, Mr Vadra's political connections helped DLF win large favours from the Congress government in Haryana. Mr Kejriwal has also been asking for Law Minister Salman Khurshid's resignation on the basis of a Hindi news channel's report which said the minister's NGO allegedly embezzled lakhs of funds meant to help the differently-abled in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr Kejriwal's party has emerged from a conglomerate of civil society activists and NGOs called India Against Corruption, the Mumbai branch of which is run by 54-year-old Mayank Gandhi.  A Right to Information activist, Krishnaji Rao, also from Mumbai, has alleged that Mr Gandhi floated an NGO to help a real estate company owned by his uncle land a major development deal. The state government cancelled the proposed project earlier this year because of reported malpractices and has ordered an inquiry into both the NGO and local corporation officials for alleged collusion.

Mr Gandhi's uncle, Lalit Gandhi, who died two years ago, was director of the Lok Group, which had large real estate interests in the financial capital.   

Mr Rao says that in 2007, an NGO was floated by the Lok Group. It was called "Remaking of Mumbai Federation." Its secretary was Mayank Gandhi, and the non-profit had respected and prominent patrons like Infosys founder Narayans Murthy and retired Chief Justice of India PN  Bhagwati. Right around this time, Mumbai's municipal corporation announced that 30-acres of the Chira Bazaar in South Mumbai, was up for redevelopment. The point was to buy nearly 350 buildings here with the consent of tenants and occupants, and then put up new apartments to house 40,000 people.

Mr Rao, the RTI activist, says that in violation of all guidelines, local officials did not invite bids for the project, worth 6,000 crores, and assigned it to a company named  Remaking of Mumbai Housing and Finance Infrastructure Ltd, which was a subsidiary of the Lok Group, owned by Mr Gandhi's uncle. He says that because Mr Gandhi was running the NGO and was also a director of the Lok Group, there was a clear conflict of interest.

"Mayank participated and masterminded  a very sophisticated land grab attempt," Mr Rao alleges, "there were whole lot of irregularities like the consent of the tenants wasn't secured also no consent was secured on the stamp paper." He claims that because the NGO had an impressive list of mentors and patrons,  and because it had worked closely with the tenants of Chira Bazaar, the non-profit helped Mr Gandhi's uncle's firm, the Lok Group, to land the contract.

Last month, India Against Corruption made this statement in defence of Mr Gandhi: " Mayank Gandhi did not float the NGO "Remaking of Mumbai Federation" (ROMF). He worked as a Secretary there, it was floated by the Lok Group. ROMF sold no project.  In addition Mayank Gandhi was an 'independent director' in Lok Group, and had no commercial interest. He resigned from all these positions in mid-August 2011, precisely to avoid perceived conflict of interest.' (IAC defends Mayank Gandhi)

When NDTV contacted  Narayan Murthy, listed by the NGO  as one of its patrons, he said , "I don't know any  Mayank Gandhi. I don't know about this NGO that has mentioned me as a patron. I am approached by many NGOs and they ask me to do some work which I do in good faith".

This January, another NGO, Jatin Manch that claims to  represent the interests of aggrieved tenants in Chira Bazaar, complained to the Chief Minister against Mr Gandhi's non-profit group. "We  want an inquiry to be made in this as the larger issue is that of an NGO being used as a front to help a particular builder thereby depriving the tenants of their legitimate rights," said Utsal Karnik, a member of Janhit Manch.

Mr Gandhi challenged the allegations and pointed out that the project was cancelled.  " There is no corruption, there is no money, there is no purchase of land and sale of land, where is corruption? " he said to NDTV.  "We can expect things like these as we are targeting the high and mighty," he said.

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