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How school for poor was nixed to clear MP’s IB school

Author: Yogesh Sadhwani & Yogesh Naik
Publication: Mumbai Mirror
Date: December 6, 2013
URL: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/crime/How-school-for-poor-was-nixed-to-clear-MPs-IB-school/articleshow/26754771.cms

Five government departments, including the chief minister's office, bent over backwards to gift two prime plots of land in Andheri worth over Rs 100 crore for less than Rs 1 lakh to a trust run by Union minister Rajiv Shukla's wife.

 Mumbai Mirror in its November 29 edition first reported how the plots near Country Club in Andheri (west) were allotted at concessional rates applicable in 1976 to BAG Films Education Society (BFES) to start a school. Shukla's wife Anuradha Prasad is the chairman of BFES and the minister himself was its secretary till when the application for land allotment was made in 2007.

 While one of the two plots was reserved for a primary municipal school and the other for a general utility playground, every rule was flouted to allot them to BFES, even though its application clearly stated that it wanted to start an IB or ICSE school.

 On Monday, Suburban Collector Sanjay Deshmukh and Additional Chief Secretary, revenue, Dr Swadheen S Kshatriya promised to look into the allotment that robbed the city of a municipal school and a playground. "The issue has been brought to our notice after your newspaper report. We will look into it," Kshatriya said.

 This newspaper has retraced the entire paper trail between 2007, when BSEF applied for the plot, and 2008, when the allotment was made. Documents in our possession show not only did none of the government departments that dealt with the application raise any questions, the proposal was pushed through by the then chief minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh.

 The BFES application travelled from the Revenue and Forest Department, which owned the land, and moved through the Urban Development, Finance and School Education departments, but does not seem to have undergone any scrutiny. Even the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation cleared it in a jiffy, willingly sacrificing a municipal school that could have benefited hundreds of poor children in the neighbourhood.

 Shukla on Monday told this newspaper that he has spoken to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and offered to return both the plots. "I have told the CM that if anything inappropriate is found in the land allotment, state should take it (the plots) back. We anyway intended to construct a school for poor and needy residing there."

 When it was pointed out that the documents clearly show the plan was to start an IB or ICSE school, he said: "That was the plan. Eventually we decided to construct a school for poor."

 The BFES moved the application for the plot sometime in 2007 and in September the same year the divisional commissioner, who reports to the Revenue Department, cleared the allotment. His only recommendation was the Urban Development Department be consulted as the plot was reserved for a primary school. In November, the UD Department wrote back that the two plots could be allotted to BFES after seeking a nod from the BMC. Having received the green signal from the UD Department, the Revenue Department sought details from the suburban collector's office.

 While the suburban collector's office was processing the information, BFES wrote to the state that it had entered into a JV with RIMS International, which runs schools and colleges in Mumbai and Pune. The letter said RIMS had all the clearances from the State School Education Department and was equipped to start a school.

 As soon as the Revenue Department received this information, a letter was shot off to the School Education Department and the BMC, seeking their clearances. In February 2008, BMC's chief engineer of the Development and Planning department wrote to state that they had no objection if the plot reserved for a municipal primary school was handed over to the BSEF.

 In March 2008, the School Education Department too gave its nod on the rounds that RIMs was certified by them and that BSEF was a financially healthy.

 With all concerned departments clearing the allotment of the plot meant for the school, now arose the question of the adjoining plot reserved for a sports complex. BSEF wanted to use this plot as a playground for its school. When the revenue department sought an opinion from Sports Department, the latter offered no resistance, stating its clearance was not even required.

 When the process of deciding a price for the two plots started, a letter signed by various revenue officials was issued in April 2008, stating that the chief minister's secretary had issued instructions to clear the proposal urgently. It went on to state that since the cost of the land was Rs 39,000 per sq meter, concessions would have to be given after getting a nod from Finance Department.

 In May, the Finance Department stated that land rates applicable in 1976 should be applied (Rs 140 per sq meter). Chief minister (Vilasrao Deshmukh) and revenue minister (Narayan Rane) soon cleared the proposal. But that was not all. The Town Planning Department suggested that the school plot could be given at 25 per cent of the rate prevailing in 1976 and playground plot at 10 per cent of the rates prevailing in 1976. It was decided that while school plot would be given on ownership basis, playground plot would be given on 15 years lease.

 On September 9, 2008, the two plots were allotted to BSEF -- Rs 98,735 for the school plot and Rs 6,309 for a 15-year lease on the plot they would use as a playground.

Ashoke Pandit, convenor of Save Open Spaces, who has filed a complaint against the land allotment with the chief minister's office said, "The entire land deal reeks of corruption. There is no municipal school or playground for public in the vicinity. BMC could have claimed both the plots and put them to good use."
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