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High court censures state for land gift to Chavan trust

High court censures state for land gift to Chavan trust

Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 13, 2002
The Bombay high court on Wednesday censured the Maharashtra government for granting a prime plot of land to the Shankarrao Chavan charitable trust at Backbay Reclamation in Nariman Point for next to nothing. Mr Chavan is a former Union minister and former chief minister of Maharashtra.

A bench comprising Justice A.P Shah and Justice Ranjana Desai asked advocate general Goolam Vahanvati whether the state administration was prepared to come out with a policy on such allotments and advertise such transactions. Mr Vahanvati said he would be able to reply after taking instructions from the state.

The bench was hearing a public interest litigation (pil) filed by the Bhrashtachar Nirmoolan Sanghatana which alleged that chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had gifted a plot measuring 2057 square metres for an annual lease rent of Re 1 while its market value was Rs 16 crore. The matter was adjourned to September 16.

The judges observed that the allotment process should be transparent with advertisements issued for inviting bids and a committee formed to process the bids received. They said, "It seems all the past chief ministers are given plots. We do not say that they were not able chief ministers but questions are bound to be asked if a plot worth Rs 16 crore is given away for one rupee."

The bench also questioned the credentials of the three trustees - Vijay Kalantri, who is a treasurer of state Congress, Ashok Chavan, revenue minister and businessman Jayant Shah. The court asked who these people were and wanted to know what charities they had undertaken. Justice Shah noted that the prime plot was being given to a Trust formed only in 2001. Justice Shah observed that the mode of succession of the trust is hereditary thereby encouraging succession of legal heirs. Shakuntala Joshi counsel for Manav Joshi who had filed the pil said the Trust appears to be more for private interest than in the public's interest. She said the Trust deed empowers the trustees to give give the trusteeship to their own legal heirs and nominees in the event of death of if they are not able to do the trust work.

She also said the plot is not reserved for public purposes. "In fact it is reserved as a residential plot in the development plan." She also argued that any change of user of the plot has to be gazzetted.

Mr Vahanvati said there were two adjacent plots of which one was given to Vasantrao Naik Agricultural Research Institute and another to S.B. Chavan in 1992. He said the allotment was not implemented earlier as the plot was reserved for housing and the reservation was changed only in 2000 after Justice VS. Deshpande (retired Chief Justice) and president of Swami Ramanand Tirth Smarak Uchchadhikari Samiti withdrew his claim to the plots.

Mr Vahanvati pointed out that the allotment made to the Vasantrao Naik Institute was never challenged. Ms Joshi immediately objected to this argument saying that was no justification for alloting the plot to Mr Chavan. She said on the one hand the government claims it is financially strapped and has even reduced the remuneration to freedom fighters. Yet on the other hand it is gifting away prime plots.

Justice Shah too observed that when the state was facing a severe cash crunch, it should try and increase its revenue. An affidavit filed by the revenue department denied allegations that the government had made special allotments to former chief ministers. He denied that the state incurred any huge loss by giving the plot to the Chavan Prathisthan.

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