Mumbai: Despite the strong objection of opposition leaders, the standing committee of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) approved the proposal to waive the Rs 9.52 crore to be paid by the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, on Wednesday. After deferring the matter multiple times, the civic standing committee gave its final nod to the waiver, without letting the opposition discuss the matter.
Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, near the Gateway of India in Colaba, has placed barricades on a portion of the road and footpath outside its premises, citing security reasons after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in 2008. According to the BMC, even the Mumbai Police have acknowledged the security requirement for which the road and footpath are required to be barricaded.
Following this, the BMC decided to waive the amount. According to the BMC’s proposal for a waiver, the hotel has occupied around 800 square metres (sq m) of public road and over 1,100 sq m of footpath space, for which over Rs 10.18 crore is payable.
Of the Rs 10.18 crore, the BMC has proposed to entirely waive around Rs 8.85 crore for the occupation of footpath, as requested by the hotel which said the exercise of barricading parts of the footpath had been undertaken for security reasons and not for commercial purposes. On the remaining amount of Rs 1.33 crore payable by the luxury hotel, the BMC has proposed to give a 50 per cent waiver.
The hotel has already paid Rs 66 lakh, while the remaining amount of Rs 9.52 crore was waived by the civic body on Wednesday.
This led to the Opposition in the civic body, comprising of the Congress, the NCP and the Samajwadi party, which are allies of the Shiv Sena in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) state government, raising a ruckus. Meanwhile, the standing committee, chaired by a Shiv Sena corporator, passed the proposal.
“The BMC is providing such preferential treatment to the hotel because there are people in the civic administration who have their own vested interests in the matter,” alleged Ravi Raja, senior Congress corporator and Leader of the Opposition in the BMC.
While the subject was tabled for discussion, members of the opposition parties were not given a chance to voice their objections on the matter, with the proposal being passed directly, with voting amongst the members. Corporators from the opposition came together across party lines to oppose the proposal. Committee chairperson Yashwant Jadhav said that the Union Ministry of defence had earlier written to the state government, making the latter responsible for the hotel's security.
“Waiving the money is completely justified because Taj Mahal hotel is one of the iconic landmarks of Mumbai and keeping it secure is the responsibility of the civic body as well,” Jadhav told The Free Press Journal.
“At a time when the civic body is facing a financial crisis, the ruling party should think of generating revenue, instead of offering tax waivers to rich entities,” said Prabhakar Shinde, standing committee member and the BJP group leader in the BMC.
Alongside this, the committee also approved an additional fund of Rs 400 crore and a post facto fund of Rs 450 crore to the civic body for Covid management expenses till March 31.
Rais Shaikh, Samajwadi Party MLA, and standing committee members had demanded an audit of the Covid-19 expenses incurred by the civic body.
“The civic body has already spent Rs 1,662 crore in COVID management and we haven't received any details of expenses despite asking for the same multiple times” Shaikh said.
After the standing committee resumed sittings in October, nearly 125 Covid-related proposals were tabled for post-facto clearance but the Sena-led panel had referred back all the proposals till last week, stating there was no transparency in the expenses.
“The Sena-led panel today (Wednesday) cleared the same proposals which it had been referring back for the past three months” stated Raja.
“The ruling party has transformed the BMC into a hotbed of corruption. There is no transparency on where the entire Rs 1,662 crore have been spent, while the chairman continues to approve more funds,” said Shinde.