Mumbai: Six men booked for stealing groundwater worth Rs 73.18 crore

The incident came to light in March after complainant Sureshkumar Dhoka met Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve.

THE AZAD Maidan police has booked six persons for allegedly extracting groundwater illegally from the premises of a housing society and selling it in the market. The accused, who had illegally dug two wells inside the housing society, allegedly made Rs 73.18 crore by selling the groundwater over the years, the police said.

The incident came to light in March after complainant Sureshkumar Dhoka met Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve. Dhoka has rented an office on the ground floor of Pandya mansion in Kalbadevi. “I’m running the office since 2003. Everyday, I would see water tankers queuing up outside my office. As the area is congested, I wrote to traffic police officials and converted these lanes into one-way roads.”

Later, he inquired with the BMC whether it had approved the wells inside the housing society. “After I was told that the wells were illegally dug, I approached the National Green Tribunal and subsequently the police, after which a case was registered,” Dhoka said.

The police have booked the owner of the housing society Tripuraprasad Pandya, his son Prakash and a relative Manoj Pandya, along with tanker operators Arun Mishra, Shrawan Mishra and Dhiraj Mishra.

Dhoka said that in order to check whether the wells were legal, he filed several RTIs, from which he learnt that the accused had availed extra electricity supply for operating a motor pump in 2006 and a second one later. “The owners even forged the building plan and showed that the wells were approved by the authorities concerned. An FIR was registered with LT Marg police in March 2018,” Dhoka said.

After investigations for over four months, the Azad Maidan police registered the case under sections 379 (theft) and 34 (common intention) of the IPC. According to the police, the accused had stolen lakhs of litres of water between 2006 to 2017.

Dhoka’s case in the NGT was decided in 2017, when the tribunal passed an order barring Pandya from extracting water from the well illegally. When asked how they measured the stolen groundwater, an officer said, “It took 15 minutes to fill a water tanker. BEST department provided us with the number of units used by the two pumps. That’s how we measured the litres of water they must have extracted in the last 11 years. To calculate the amount we put Rs 1,200 per tanker.”