Mumbai: During a routine visit to a municipal school in Mumbai Central in December, BMC officials were shocked to find that one of the classrooms had been turned into a home – with bedding, kitchen utensils, a large portable stove and clothes – by a man claiming he was a caretaker appointed by the Election Commission, Maharashtra.
On confronting the man, Somnath Madanmohan Patra, 43, the BMC also found him to be in possession of an Aadhaar and a PAN card in which his residential address was stated to be that of the school.
Concerned about the safety of the girls studying in the school, the BMC’s administrative officer of schools wrote to the election officer of the Mumbadevi legislative constituency to get to the bottom of the matter. With the BMC yet to receive a reply from the Election Commission, it is planning to file an FIR against Patra, who left the premises after he was confronted.
The matter came to light on December 14 last year, when senior officials of the BMC's ‘D’ ward (Mumbai Central, Grant Road, Charni Road) were taking a round of the Gilderlane BMC school in Mumbai Central.
The officials were shocked to find Patra sitting in the room with kitchen utensils kept on a table nearby. When asked who he was, he proudly introduced himself as the caretaker appointed by the Mumbadevi legislative constituency (186).
Until then, neither the BMC security guards, nor the school authorities, had questioned Patra; he would snub them whenever confronted, stating that he worked for the Election Commission and was the caretaker of materials or documents stored in the classroom by the EC.
"Our officials are not sure how long this man had been staying in the school, as most of the time, the door remained closed. But some of the staff in the school claimed they had seen him on the premises for more than six months. We wanted the EC and the election officer of the Mumbadevi Legislative Constituency to identify him as per his claim.
However, there has been no reply so far. An FIR needs to be filed, as this is a serious security concern," Prashant Gaikwad, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of ‘D’ ward told The Free press Journal.
Even when an administrative officer (schools) confronted Patra, he replied that the Election Commission had appointed him and he would leave the premises only when the EC asked him to do so.
Gaikwad said, "To file an FIR or to take any action against Patra, we need the Election Commission to verify or deny his claims first."
When contacted Dilip Shinde, Additional Chief Electoral Officer, Election Commission told The Free Press Journal, "Yes, we do store election-related materials or documents in BMC school classrooms even after elections, as we do not have space to store these elsewhere.
As regards the Mumbai Central school, I will need to verify these claims and get details from the Tehsildar or the election officer of the constituency where the incident was reported."
The Free Press Journal had reported on February 19 that even years after its classrooms were used by the Election Commission or the State Election Commission, the BMC had failed to get the premises back.
While some of the classrooms have been occupied since 2009, others were taken over before the 2014 and 2019 elections.‘‘Even more shocking is how Patra managed to secure Aadhaar card and PAN card on the basis of this address. Was he not asked to furnish more proof? This is something that is bothering most of us," said another senior civic official.