Thousands of Mumbaikars rushed to the State Secretariat, Mantralaya, here on Wednesday believing a rumour that the government was offering a house in an upmarket locality for a mere Rs. 54,000.

Things came to such a pass that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had to issue a clarification on Doordarshan. Announcements were made at all suburban railway stations asking people not to come to Mantralaya.

Mr. Chavan has ordered an inquiry.

Agitation

The rumour started two days ago after Prakash Ambedkar, a Dalit leader and grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, led an agitation against a well-known builder, Niranjan Hiranandani. According to the Powai Area Development Scheme, 1986, signed between Hiranandani and the Maharashtra government, people belonging to the lower income group were to get a 400 sq ft house for Rs 54,000 in Mumbai. “The agreement was never followed up and not a single house was allotted,” alleged Mr. Ambedkar.

“We asked the people to submit their applications to the CM’s office and we received an overwhelming response,” Mr. Ambedkar told The-Hindu.

Following Mr. Ambedkar’s call, traffic around the State headquarters almost came to a standstill for more than two hours. Police resorted to a minor lathi-charge to disperse the crowds. Gates to the Mantralaya had to be closed to stop people coming to submit application forms. A shop where people photocopied the forms was forcibly closed by the authorities.

When contacted, Mr. Hiranandani refused to comment, saying the matter was sub judice