Navi Mumbai’s Very Own No-Nonsense Nayak: Tukaram Mundhe, IAS
NMMC Chief Tukaram Mundhe has shaken up the city with his no-nonsense attitude since taking up his post in May 2016.
When Shivaji Rao (Anil Kapoor) takes over as Chief Minister of Maharashtra for just one day in Shankar-directed political thriller Nayak, one can’t help but root for him – the everyman’s neta; the chosen one who will plug all the leaks in our ‘system’. Call it too good to be true, Navi Mumbai has its very own Nayak and credit needs to be given where it is deserved.
Tukaram Mundhe, IAS, took over the post of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation Chief in May 2016, and in less than three months he has stirred the sleeping satellite city back to life. Hailing from Beed district in Maharashtra, Mundhe served as District Collector (DC), Solapur until recently when Chief Minister Fadnavis personally handpicked him to look after the running of the city.
A Three-Month Performance Review
Since May, Mundhe has suspended 10 officials for dereliction of duty, including Deputy Municipal Commissioner Prakash Kulkarni, the head of the property tax department, for administrative irregularities. Kulkarni had been on this post for the last nine years, while the post’s tenure lasts only three years.
He has taken a step towards making Navi Mumbai environment-friendly by sending a city-wide notice calling for the segregation of waste. Residents have now begun to differentiate their waste between wet and dry, which goes for composting or recycling, respectively.
While on his morning walk one Sunday, a senior citizen approached him with a grievance, and since then Mundhe holds “Walk with Commissioner” every Sunday, where residents can approach him with their problems, directly. Action is also immediate; several illegal petrol pumps in Belapur were sealed off after grievances regarding them were shared with Munde.
Making one of the strongest cases for his integrity, Mundhe scrapped three multi-crore projects approved previously, terming them as “unnecessary”, as is often the case when parties involved have monetary or political ambitions. These include a Rs 20 crore marble statue of BR Ambedkar in Airoli and a solar project at Morbe Dam worth Rs 163 crore. The funds have been redirected to making the city disabled-friendly, and building pavements and gardens.
Apart from removing 1,916 illegal hawkers, 1,808 hutments and 1,010 hoardings, 2,492 commercial establishments have been fined for not having the required Occupation Certificate (OC) and violating MRTP (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices) rules.
His most bold move has been to order demolitions of over 250 gaothans that emerged after December 2012, as dictated by government regularisation last year. Gaothans are clusters of land inhabited by those who gave up their land rights to make way for the building of the smart city in the 70s, and were rehabilitated elsewhere. Over 15,000 illegal gaothans exist in the city today.
The Inevitable Political Backlash
No one likes a profiteering system to be shaken up. Ironically, Mundhe has managed to unite corporators and politicians across party lines, who are now aggressively and openly lobbying for his transfer. On 18 July, politicians along with locals announced a city-wide bandh against Mundhe; Shiv Sena member and Chief of the Municipal Standing Committee Shivraj Patil suspended the committee indefinitely in an attempt to pressure the civic chief to step back from the demolition drives and stall decision-making.
The mayor, Sudhakar Sonawane, is especially upset with Mundhe, as expressed by him to Times of India:
In a democracy, if you start behaving as if President’s rule has been imposed, then you are insulting democracy. It is dictatorial to scrap decisions that have been taken by a body elected by people. We will not tolerate this.
Hurt by how Mundhe had not visited him even once since he became Chief, Sonwane lashed out against his ‘Walk with Commissioner’ program, calling it “whimsical”.
Sensing the increasing political pressure to transfer Mundhe, the citizens have now come together to protest and petition for the continuing term of the one officer they believe can change their city. An online petition with over 6,000 signatures is currently open, with thousands more pouring in to encourage and support the honest work Mundhe has been doing.
Mundhe remains unfazed. In his crisp cotton shirt, he goes about his work with no regard for fear or favour.
A Telling Past Record
Old habits die hard.
Mundhe has been transferred eight times in ten years, as is the fate of many honest civil servants. As the DC of Solapur, he took on the sand and land mafia, even putting his life in danger; he was attacked by the sand mafia in January 2016 but was rescued in time. He completed successful probes into over 600 check dams built in the region since 2002, and declared over 12,000 water structures only for drinking water purposes, bringing almost immediate drought relief to the area.
He has been felicitated by the government of Maharashtra for his exemplary work in April 2016, and separately for his work in making seven municipal council open defecation-free in Solapur.
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