Mumbai, May 8: Rehabilitation of slum dwellers, tourism and drug menace are the key focus areas of Lok Sabha candidates in Mumbai's constituencies that will go to polls in the fifth phase of general elections on May 20. Some of them, Mihir Kotecha, Arvind Sawant and Varsha Gaikwad, shared their vision for the city during a debate organised by the Mumbai Press Club, Praja Foundation and the Free Press Journal at the Indian Merchants Chamber here on Wednesday.

Kotecha, the BJP nominee from Mumbai North East, stressed the need to boost tourism in the megapolis. He now represents the Mulund assembly constituency. A bird park in Mulund will be operational in two years for which the design consultant has been appointed, he said. “I also have plans for cable cars and an observatory deck over the hills of Mulund from where the beautiful Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Tulsi Lake can be viewed. Local tourism can be boosted by highlighting the importance of these green lungs of the city,” he said. Mumbai South Lok Sabha Election 2024: Eknath Shinde-Led Shiv Sena Fields Yamini Jadhav Against SS-UBT's Arvind Sawant.

He called Mankhurd in the Mumbai North East parliamentary constituency a den of drug cartels and criminals, asserting that he would use all his strength and resources to get rid of the menace if elected. Asked if labelling the area a den of criminals might amount to hate speech, Kotecha said he was speaking facts. Local people have been affected by criminal activities and want the area to be free of drugs and crimes, said Kotecha, also batting for more rehabilitation centres in the city. There is a need to make Mumbai slum-free, he said. “Slum dwellers are the main labour force driving Mumbai. Banks don't fund slum rehabilitation projects. Big builders don't want to work in slum pockets. Big hurdles are red tape and (lack of ) finance,” he said.

Incumbent MP Arvind Sawant, who is seeking a third term from the Mumbai South seat, said MPs have to work as a catalyst between the state and central governments. “We are lawmakers and policymakers. I have been pursuing the development of Mumbai's east coast with the Union shipping ministry. The shipping minister was positive about the project after the hutment dwellers were rehabilitated,” said Sawant, who has been nominated by the Shiv Sena (UBT). However, the minister was removed, claimed Sawant, attacking the BJP government. Lok Sabha Elections 2024: 10% Discount on Base Fare for Mumbai Metro Commuters on Voting Day on May 20.

“Manipur is a serious blot on Indian culture. When we raised the issue, 146 MPs were suspended and immediately 20 bills were passed. One of the bills was removing the Chief Justice of India from the committee to choose the Chief Election Commissioner,” he said. The term “Modi gaurantee” smacks of arrogance, he said. “Hence, we say there should be a change otherwise such dictatorship will continue,” Sawant said. He also accused the Centre of not allowing redevelopment of dilapidated buildings in Mumbai, giving the classical language status to Marathi and not renaming Mumbai Central railway station after Nana Jagannath Shankarseth.

City Congress chief Varsha Gaikwad, contesting from the Mumbai North Central seat, highlighted the Dharavi redevelopment project, saying her party was not against redevelopment but against the displacement of the slum sprawl's seven lakh residents. “The redevelopment (of Dharavi) should benefit the people and not the developer,” she said. She also distanced from her party colleague Vijay Waddetiwar's comment that former ATS chief Hemant Karkare wasn't killed by terrorist Ajmal Kasab during the 26/11 attack. “It is his personal statement and not the party's stand,” she said.

Wadettiwar, the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra assembly, recently triggered a controversy with the claim that 26/11 prosecution lawyer and BJP's Mumbai North Central candidate Ujjwal Nikam hid the information that Karkare wasn't killed by Kasab but fell to a bullet of a policeman linked to RSS.

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