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Two Cong CMs gave away 67 prime Mumbai plots to politicians, trusts

Author: Shalini Nair
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 27, 2012
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/two-cong-cms-gave-away-67-prime-mumbai-plots-to-politicians-trusts/954380/0

An internal probe into how the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) is left with barely two hectares of land in Mumbai to cater to the financial capital’s soaring housing needs has found that more than 20 hectares were sold at throwaway prices between 1999 and 2003, with the beneficiaries including politicians or their trusts.

The 20 hectares were spread over 67 plots and the allotments were made by a state government sub-committee comprising a handful of Congress and NCP ministers, some of these in violation of rules. Of these, 52 were sanctioned when Vilasrao Deshmukh was the chief minister and 15 when Sushilkumar Shinde was holding power. The preferential allotment of land meant for public housing and amenities was stopped by the Bombay High Court in April 2004 when Shinde was chief minister.

The MHADA inquiry, whose report has been accessed by The Sunday Express, was ordered in March this year after opposition parties raised the issue of land allotments during the tenures of Deshmukh and Shinde. Both former chief ministers are currently Cabinet ministers at the Centre.

The probe has found that land allotments were made under the Land Disposal Rules of the MHADA Act. The rules were amended to allow the state government to take over the power to disburse MHADA plots meant for public housing or amenities such as schools and hospitals to charitable trusts of its choice.

Many of the plots were allotted to educational institutions controlled by senior Congress or NCP ministers. These included Rahebar Foundation, whose trustees are NCP MLA Nawab Malik’s wife and sister; Congress MLA Madhukar Chavan’s Raigad Military School; and Cabinet minister Jayant Patil’s Kasegaon Education Society. Incidentally, Malik and Patil were part of the sub-committee that allotted the plots while Chavan was the then MHADA chairman.

In one case, a 10,000 sq m plot in Oshiwara meant for a hospital was given to the Nargis Dutt Trust, of which Congress MP Priya Dutt is a trustee. The deal was criticised by a 2009 CAG report as being tailored to confer undue benefits to the trust. The CAG report pointed out that while the trust was sanctioned land in 2000, it insisted on being charged a rent of only Rs 1 per year for 99 years. Finally, the allotment was made in December 2007 at a concessional rate of Rs 21 crore. This was further reduced to Rs 11 crore following a request from the trust.

In another instance, the Madhya Pradesh Mitra Charitable (MPMC) Trust was allotted a 6,032 sq m plot in Goregaon for a paltry Rs 40 lakh to build a school and playground. However, the trust divided the plot into two and sub-leased it to two private firms that went on to build even on the portion that was to be kept open for a playground. According to a petition filed in the Bombay High Court last year, the trust earns Rs 2.5 crore as annual rent from one of the plots that was sub-leased to Vibgyor High International School.

Plots meant for public housing in the prime suburb of Bandra were allotted to Congress MLC Subhash Chavan and former general secretary of the Mumbai Congress Ajit Sawant, and in Juhu to Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi. In some cases, allotments were made to housing societies formed by senior bureaucrats, such as the Meera Housing Society in Oshiwara in which former municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak was one of the members. Phatak is in jail at present for his alleged role in the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

While land disposal rules do not allow allotments to be made to real estate developers, plots with an area of over 1,000 sq m each were allotted to Blue Star realtors in Andheri and Dinshaw Trapinex Builders Pvt Ltd in Versova. The biggest plot allotted was a four-hectare mangrove stretch in Versova to 3M Gymkhana Private Limited.

MHADA officials said that the impact of such discretionary disposal of land is being felt now. The Mumbai housing board of MHADA releases about 3,000-4,000 affordable houses in its annual lottery for which over three lakh people apply. This year, the dearth of land has meant that the housing stock has been reduced to 867 and 1.5 lakh people have applied for these. Another 3,000 houses are under construction on MHADA’s few remaining plots.

“These may very well be the last affordable public houses MHADA is able to create. It is ironic that today MHADA is so desperate to get hold of some land for building public housing that it is looking at purchasing land from private landowners at market rates,” said an MHADA official.

The findings

Plots allotted to educational institutions run by Congress or NCP ministers. Two of them were part of the panel that decided the allotments, one was then MHADA chief

10,000 sq m plot meant for a hospital given to Nargis Dutt Trust. It sought and got it at a “concessional rate” of Rs 11 cr

Trust got 6,032 sq m plot for Rs 40 lakh to build a school and playground, but split and sub-leased it. It is now accused of earning Rs 2.5 cr annual rent from one plot alone

Allotments made to housing societies formed by senior bureaucrats as well as to real estate developers, which is not allowed under land disposal rules

WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY

VILASRAO DESHMUKH: “I do not remember as it happened many years ago. I have asked the MHADA chief to send me a copy of the report.”

NAWAB MALIK: “We have been running a school with 2,000 students on the plot. We have paid MHADA the nominal price demanded by them and there was no fraud involved in the allotment.”

JAYANT PATIL: “The allotment was made in 2002 as per procedure. I do not know whether any other trust had applied for the plot. Last year the Kasegaon Trust decided to not take over the plot as the location was not suitable for a school.” (MHADA’s report, however, shows the Kasegaon Trust as the allottee).

SUBHASH CHAVAN: “The allotment for both plots was cancelled last year and handed over to someone else.” (MHADA’s report, however, shows Chavan as the allottee).
 
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