The politician-builder nexus in Maharashtra has plundered away prime land. Can Prithviraj Chavan break the vice-like grip the realtors have over the state? Ashish Khetan reports
A FEW DAYS after Prithviraj Chavan was inaugurated as Maharashtra chief minister last November, an over-ambitious Congress MP from Mumbai rang up the chief minister’s office and sought an appointment. A few hours later, the MP, who everybody knew was constructing a slum rehabilitation project in Andheri besides many small real estate projects that he had set up in the name of his brother, received a call from the CM’s office confirming the appointment. But there was a caveat. “Sahab has asked me to ensure that you are coming alone. So please don’t bring anybody along,” said the new CM’s personal secretary. The MP got the message. Builders and real estate developers were persona non grata with the new CM.
An aide to a senior Congress leader told TEHELKA that if the visitor’s book and security log books maintained at Varsha, the chief’s minister’s official bungalow at Malabar Hill, are checked for the last week of Ashok Chavan’s tenure as CM, one would come to know many builders turned up to push their files, worried that the tainted CM was on his way out.
The lines between politicians, the supposed guardians of public interest, and the realtors, who are driven purely by private gain, have got so blurred in Mumbai, that the new chief minister’s intent to keep a safe distance from profligate realtors was seen as an iconoclastic act.
The ruling party MPs and MLAs were soon heard calling Prithviraj as being naïve and impractical. “Which builder will give you money during elections if his work is not done?” the snubbed MP was heard telling his party colleagues.
The need to raise party funds is the most common excuse given by state politicians for their nexus with builders.
For most in the state unit of the Congress, Prithviraj was an unknown commodity. The 65-year-old was an engineer by training and had chucked his cushy job in aircraft instrumentation in the United States to inherit his parents’ political legacy. Between them, his father, the late DR Chavan and mother Premlata Tai, had won the Lok Sabha seat of Karad in Satara for the Congress as many as six times; DR Chavan also served as a minister in the Cabinets of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.
Since his return to India in 1991, Prithviraj, however, had opted for a quiet political career at the Centre, away from the rough and tumble of Maharashtra politics, holding several critical but low-key portfolios in the Manmohan Singh government like Science and Technology, Earth Sciences and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Ironically, his biggest weakness — almost zero connect with today’s groundlevel politics of Maharashtra — proved to be his major qualification for the coveted job. Reeling under an avalanche of scams, the Congress needed a chief minister who could start on a clean slate.
Though it’s still early days, Prithviraj seems to be charting his own course. In an informal discussion with a small group of journalists at his residence on 12 May, he expressed his dismay with the way the multi-billion rupee Dharavi slum rehabilitation project was structured by his predecessor, Ashok Chavan.
“We have over half-a-dozen town planning and housing government agencies in this city,” said Prithiviraj. “I don’t understand why we should hand over precious public land to private developers when we ourselves can do the rehabilitation and redevelopment work. The government will stand to earn hundreds of crores of rupees from the land that would otherwise go into the pockets of private builders.”
The total worth of the township projects that were scrapped by Prithviraj. The projects had been cleared on the morning of 11 November 2010, just hours before Prithviraj took over[/box]
Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, is spread over 500 acres in the heart of Mumbai. Out of the 500 acres, 150 acres has already been redeveloped. But the redevelopment proposal of the remaining 350 acres has been in limbo for the past 15 years, primarily because both the builders and politicians are wrangling over their share of the spoils.
The government owns almost 80 percent of this land (75 percent belongs to the state government and the rest to the Central government). The government files show that after relocating more than 60,000 families living on this 350 acres, at least 4.35 crore sq ft of built-up area will be available for sale in the free market. According to a very conservative estimate (based on a projection made by a government official and is part of the official file), the private developers will stand to earn a gross revenue of more than Rs 26,000 crore. The market estimates put the figure in excess of Rs 50,000 crore.
The Dharavi project file shows that Ashok Chavan and four chief ministers before him (two from the NCP-Congress combine and two from the Shiv Sena-BJP government) had wanted to give this prime real estate to private developers after taking a premium of just Rs 250-450 per sq ft. Once redeveloped, the market experts estimate that the developed real estate would fetch anywhere in the range of Rs 20,000- Rs 30,000 per sq ft.
The question that arises is, why wouldn’t the government want to make this money? Why should it give away public land to private developers who become rich at the expense of the exchequer? It could be done by the dozen-odd urban development and housing departments and agencies in the state that employ a legion of engineers, town planners and bureaucrats and who draw crores of rupees of salary at the cost of the taxpayer.
“The land thus freed after rehabilitating 60,000 slum dwellers could be then auctioned. The government earned hundreds of crores of rupees from auctioning the land at Bandra-Kurla complex to big multinational and blue-chip companies a few years ago. Why can’t we do the same thing in the case of Dharavi?” a nonplussed Prithviraj asked the reporters.
An official, who has been part of the project from the time it was first conceived, told TEHELKA, “The project drawn by the government divided the entire 500 acres of slum land into five sectors. Since 1997, pro which was when the project was first conceptualised, every man who has been in power in the state has wanted 100- 150 crore as kickback from each sector. Over the past 15 years, there had been constant manipulation of the bidding procedures, tender conditions and project detailing. To begin with, there were 19 developers who were interested in the project. Finally, the tender conditions were made such that only five big developers were in a position to qualify, while the rest were disqualified. Twice the bids were cancelled at the last minute as there was a disagreement over the division of the plunder.”
Prithviraj is expected to make an announcement soon awarding the redevelopment and rehabilitation work in one out of the five clusters to Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), the government agency constituted in 1977 to provide affordable housing to the common man. But private developers are lobbying hard to prevail upon the CM to give the remaining four sectors to private developers.
ON MAY 7, Prithviraj scrapped two special township projects worth over 12,500 crore that had been awarded by Ashok Chavan to private developers without inviting any competitive bidding. The projects were given clearance on the morning of 11 November 2010, just hours before Prithviraj was administered the oath.
Between 1-10 November, files related to these projects moved at an astonishing speed between half-a-dozen government departments before finally being sanctioned by Ashok Chavan just a couple of hours prior to Prithviraj’s oath ceremony.
Now Prithviraj has not only scrapped these two projects, he has also put another four integrated township projects — the cumulative worth of all the six projects is about 55,000 crore — awarded by Ashok Chavan and Vilasrao Deshmukh under review. All these six projects were approved arbitrarily and without inviting any competitive bids or public tenders. (See the box on 3K).
Cumulative worth of six projects awarded by Ashok Chavan and Vilasrao Deshmukh now under review. They were approved arbitrarily without inviting any competitive bids[/box]
When contacted, Deshmukh told TEHELKA, “I don’t have the project files with me anymore. But what I can say is that the projects were sanctioned as per the rules.” Ashok Chavan refused to comment on the issue saying that the matter was sub-judice.
But if the Adarsh Housing Society scam was appalling, what will you do after reading the following disclosures?
On 9 January 2002, when Ashok Chavan was the revenue minister in Deshmukh’s government, he passed a “scandalous order” whereby he allegedly gifted away 102 acres in the heart of Pune to a private builder. The land was situated in one of Pune’s most posh localities, Senapati Bapat Road.
The prevailing property rate in the area was Rs 12,000- Rs 14,000 per sq ft for residential and Rs 20,000- Rs 22,000 per sq ft for commercial use. The approximate worth of the land was Rs 2,500 crore. But thanks to Ashok Chavan’s alleged largesse, all that the government received was a mere Rs 4,058 for the entire patch of land. This paltry amount was calculated at the tax rates levied by the British government.
At the time of Ashok Chavan’s order, the beneficiary builders, Jayant Shah and his son Manav, were widely believed to be very close to his family. When the Adarsh Society scam erupted last year, it emerged that Chavan, besides benefiting his own family, had also allegedly got the father-son duo two flats at the society. The nexus was out in the open.
In March, a full nine years after Ashok Chavan’s controversial order, the then Pune Municipal Commissioner Mahesh Zagade passed an order calling the land transfer and other related clearances given by Chavan illegal. His order said that in 2002, all the clearances and ownership changes made with regard to the 102 acres were illegal. He also recommended that strict legal and punitive action be taken against the guilty. But the builder had already made hundreds of crores by carving out plots and selling them in the market.
So how did Ashok Chavan script this alleged brazen scam with such impunity and manage to make great strides in his political career without getting caught, until of course Adarsh ran him aground? After all, he was Rahul Gandhi’s choice for the post of Maharashtra chief minister after Deshmukh was caught on camera taking his actor son Riteish Deshmukh and his producer-director friend Ram Gopal Varma to a terror picnic at the Taj Hotel a day after the gunbattle at the hotel had ended. The ensuing public anger had forced the Congress leadership to fire Deshmukh.
It’s partly because of the complex nature of land and property laws, land allotment procedures and other issues surrounding it that the politician-builder continues to thrive. Land scams seldom get nailed and politicians tend to think that they would get away with it without the common man ever getting so much as a whiff.
The amount a private builder paid the government for 102 acres in Senapati Bapat Road in Pune in 2002. The approximate worth was Rs 2,500 cr. Deshmukh was CM, Ashok his revenue minister[/box]
But largely, land scams become possible in Maharashtra because the bureaucracy is hand-in-glove with politicians. Virtually everybody from top to bottom is on the gravy train and works overtime to provide illegal gains to realtors, rather acting as custodians of public interest. The alleged Pune land scam done under Ashok is the embodiment of this deep-rooted malaise (see box on Pune).
The usual system of checks and balances has collapsed as far the Revenue, Housing and Urban Development departments of Maharashtra are concerned.
VILASRAO DESHMUKH (CM in 1999-2003 and 2004-08) and Ashok Chavan (2008-10), together sanctioned six township projects by invoking state slum rehabilitation laws which no CM had ever used. These projects worth a total of Rs 55,000 crore were awarded on first-comefirst- served basis without inviting a competitive bid. In sizes of 40-125 acres in prime locations of Mumbai, each project involved gross revenues in the range of 1,000- 14,000 crore for private developers.
In March 2011, former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court accusing the two former Congress CMs of abusing their power. Somaiya alleged that the special provision was used as a tool for grant of concessions and relaxations to favour certain persons.
In one of these projects, a part of the land was owned by the armed forces (The Air Force is Losing Out. On the Ground, TEHELKA, 5 March), while another part belonged to the customs department. In some projects, portions came under Coastal Regulation Zone or salt pan lands or mangroves. It is alleged there were no clearances from the ministries concerned.
Prithviraj has already scrapped two projects, awarded to Sterling Buildcon (in Chembur) and Lashkariya Constructions (in Malvani), hurried through in the last few days of Chavan’s tenure, while another four have been put under review.
Look at the following chain of events:
1. In 1989, when Sharad Pawar was CM, the Pune collector passed an ‘illegal’ order and gifted away 322.7 acres to a trust controlled by the family of Vinod Goenka, who has been in the news recently as a partner of DB Realty’s Shahid Balwa. The trust got the land for free. Later, the Pune Collector took voluntary retirement and joined Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party. He won two successive Lok Sabha elections in 1999 and 2004.
2. In 1992, the Revenue department (Pawar was called to the Centre to head the defence ministry in Narasimha Rao’s government and Sudhakarrao Naik became CM) challenged the Pune Collector’s order and the consent decree signed as a result of this order in a court of law. The department calls the earlier order passed by the previous collector as a colossal mistake and plead with the court to revoke the land transfer as it was illegal and against public interest.
3. On 10 March 2003, the Sushilkumar Shinde government did an out-of-court compromise with Goenka’s trust and gave away around 80 acres in the heart of Pune for free. Shinde had become CM in January 2003 by replacing Deshmukh, who had been heading the government since 1999. In 2004, the Congress high command plucked out Shinde and brought Deshmukh back. Shinde was seen as being too soft on Pawar, making the Congress lose ground to NCP in the 2004 Assembly election.
4. On 25 November 2003, Pawar’s family and a few close friends incorporate a company named Tech Park One. Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and her husband Sadanand Sule own substantial shares in the company.
5. On 1 October 2004, Tech Park One bought about 26,000 sq m from Mukund Bhavan Trust. The property records showed that the land actually belonged to the military since 1930.
6. The industry experts have valued the property at 70 crore.
7. The company constructs the Panchsheel Tech Park that currently, according to industry estimates, earns an annual rent of 27 crore.
8. Interestingly, it was Balwa’s DB Realty that did all the correspondence with the Union ministry of environment, which was under A Raja at the time, for environmental clearance for this project.
9. On the remaining 68 acres, Goenka and his partner Balwa launch three massive commercial projects. At the moment, the construction is in full swing.
Mayureshwar Developers got Ashok Chavan to nullify a 1950 order to favour them
IN 1858, the British government leased out 102 acres of land in Pune to the Ramoshi tribe to give it a source of sustenance. But in 1950, the government found that families were violating tenancy rules by pawning them off to moneylenders in the market. Exasperated, the government evicted the tribe.
In 1961, flood-affected families were resettled on part of the land, and government residential quarters on another part. In remaining parts, slums sprouted. Among the slum dwellers were members of the Ramoshi tribe.
The subsequent chain of events clearly hints at a deeper and sinister conspiracy.
In January 2002, Ashok Chavan, who then held the revenue portfolio, annulled the 1950 government order by which the Ramoshi tribe was evicted. The justification was that the tribe was extremely poor and needed the land for sustenance.
Soon after, Mayureshwar Developers swung into action. They started getting the tribals to transfer the property in their name and got the necessary clearances like non-agricultural use certificate and order under Urban Land Ceiling Act.
The Shah family got a revenue official to transfer a 90,000 sq ft chunk with the animal husbandry department to the company. Up came a luxury apartment building named Rohan Tapovan which, according to market estimates, earned a gross revenue of 450 crore by way of sale of flats. The Shahs also moved a proposal to develop another piece of land measuring 70,000 sq feet.
Another plot measuring 38,000 sq feet was transferred in the name of Jairaj Developers Unit 9, a new name for the same company.
The scam came to light in December 2009, when a small-time builder Ravindra Barhate petitioned the Pune Collector, Pune Municipal Commissioner and also the then CM Ashok Chavan calling the entire deal a massive scam. However, the issue was given a quiet burial and Chavan continued in the post of CM.
Finally, on 5 March this year — four months after Ashok Chavan’s exit — PMC Commissioner Mahesh Zagade passed an order calling the land transfer and other related clearances illegal. He also recommended strict legal action against the guilty.
Despite repeated SMSes and phone calls made by TEHELKA, Jayant Shah of Mayureshwar Developers refused to comment.
As with the alleged Ashok Chavanscripted Pune scam, the case of Mukund Bhavan Trust shows the complexity around land issues that has allowed wrongdoings of politicians to have a sustained life in the state (see the box on Mukund Bhavan Trust).
Atul Choradia of Panchsheel Tech Park told TEHELKA, “Panchsheel purchased the said plot of 26,000 sq m for a consideration of Rs 7 crore, which was more than double the market value of Rs 3.93 crore prevailing at the said time as per the government ready reckoner.” He also denied any linkages between Panchsheel and Balwa. “There is no connection of DB Realty to Panchsheel. It is a misinterpretation due to the survey number being the same,” he said in an email response.
NCP spokesman Jitendra Awhad told TEHELKA, “It’s a malicious campaign against the Pawar family. It was at the high court’s instructions that the out-of-court settlement was negotiated. Mukund Bhavan Trust is the legitimate owner of the land. Supriya Sule and her husband invested about Rs 90 lakh in Panchsheel Park and have only 9 percent stake in the project. Sadanand Sule comes from a renowned business family and has every right to enter into legitimate business deals.”
LEADER OF the Opposition Eknath Khadse raised the matter of the Mukund Bhavan Trust scam in the Assembly in April. “The entire scam should be investigated by the CBI,” Khadse told TEHELKA.
But like the alleged Chavan-Shah scam, the Mukund Bhavan Trust scam came to light not because of the Opposition’s vigil, but because of the efforts of Ravi Bharate, who dug out all the documents using RTI and then gave it to the press and the Opposition parties.
Despite a regular eruption of scams and a deluge of corruption charges against prominent NCP and Congress leaders, very seldom has there been a genuine investigation that resulted in prosecution.
One reason is that almost every major leader, across the political spectrum, has had a finger in the pie.
“Opposition leaders from the Shiv Sena and BJP have been hand-in-glove with the Congress-NCP regime. So many times, issues of land scam and financial irregularities are raised in the Assembly but then as media focus shifts to other stories, the scams are given a quiet burial,” says Ramesh Joshi, a former Janata Party councillor who, disgusted with the reigning corruption in the civic body, resigned from his post in 1999.
“In 1987-90, Pawar as Congress chief minister de-reserved as many as 285 plots in Mumbai to give to builders. Around the same time, the Shiv Sena, which controlled the BMC, changed the land usage of over 4,000 plots. Our party led an agitation against these scams, both inside and outside the House. But then nothing happened. By 1991, Shiv Sena replaced Janata Party as the principal Opposition party. Shiv Sena and Pawar were hand-in-glove,” alleges Joshi, who along with Janata Party’s Mrinal Gore led a spirited campaign against Pawar’s alleged nexus with builders in the 1990s.
In Mumbai, almost every MLA and MP, both past and present, cutting across political lines, owns at least one real estate project, either directly or through family members or a proxy, at any given point of time.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray runs a big construction company named Matoshree Infrastructure. Right now, this company is redeveloping a cluster of over a dozen residential buildings in Mulund.
Former chief minister and Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi and Raj had together bought the 4.8-acre Kohinoor Mill Land for Rs 421 crore in 2005 amidst a slew of controversies and allegations. In 2009, Raj sold his stake for Rs 300 crore, according to market estimates (though Matoshree’s spokesperson had claimed that the stake was sold for Rs 62 crore). Raj’s company also constructed one of the first slum rehabilitation projects in the city.
Rate at which Ashok Chavan and four chief ministers before him wanted to give away the government’s share in Dharavi to private builders. The redeveloped land would have fetched Rs 20,000- Rs 30,000 per sq ft[/box]
The brother of Shiv Sena MLA from Goregaon, Subhash Desai, has several multi- crore real estate projects in the suburbs.
BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha (Malabar constituency) is today one of the top real estate developers in the city. Lodha first became an MLA in 1999 and has not looked back since then. Lodha Group, which he started in 1980, currently has 38 real estate projects under construction covering over 29 million sq ft of built-up area.
People often say that Raj and Uddhav Thackeray will never contest elections. Why? Because then they will have to declare their assets, both movable and immovable.
Similarly, the stories surrounding the alleged illegal gains of Sharad Pawar, who in the last Lok Sabha election declared his total worth as 8.73 crore, are the stuff of urban legend. While in the past, Pawar has often been accused of holding properties through proxies, of late it has come to light that his daughter and son-in-law had substantial shareholdings in at least two multi- billion-dollar real estate projects.
Acres of land in Pune that was gifted for free by the collector’s order to a trust controlled by the family of Vinod Goenka, partner of the now infamous Shahid Balwa. The collector later went on to join the NCP[/box]
And then there are the likes of Balwa, who have become real estate tycoons on the strength of their political connections. Balwa, 37, the son of a restaurant owner who grew up in a small home at Mumbai Central, has been listed by the Forbes as India’s 66th richest man with a net worth of $1.06 billion.
But yet, in Maharashtra, Balwa is among several builders who have befriended influential politicians and have achieved a meteoric rise in the real estate industry.
Another such example is Sudhakar Shetty, who owned just a popular dance bar a few years ago, but today is a real estate tycoon, his worth estimated at over 500 crore. Shetty is believed to be the frontman for a political family from North India.
TWO YEARS ago, a 25-year-old land scam of thousands of crores involving Hiranandani Developers came to light. The scam apparently started in 1987 and continued over the next quarter-century without any government, political outfit or government official raising the flag. Finally, it was left to a few civil and RTI activists to do the document-digging and file a PIL in court.
After a detailed probe, the then head of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, (MMRDA) Ratnakar Gaikwad passed an order dated 1 January 2009, finding the builder guilty of several illegalities and imposed a fine of Rs 1,993 crore.
“The official figure of Rs 1,993 crore is much below the actual quantum of the scam. It runs into at least Rs 30,000 crore,” says Simpreet Singh, a member Ghar Bachao- Ghar Banao Andolan, an NGO that has been fighting for the cause of slum dwellers and has now filed a PIL against Hiranandani Developers.
The then CM Ashok Chavan wrote back to the MMRDA asking the agency to reassess the quantum of fine. Miraculously, the MMRDA now revised his previous assessment and reduced the amount of fine to Rs 200 crore. Two years have gone by and the builder has just paid Rs 3 crore as fine. The matter is now pending before the Bombay High Court (see box).
It beggars one’s belief that how scams have remained under wraps or worse continued unabated irrespective of the political party or leader at the helm of affairs.
In April, a four-year old alleged land scam amounting to hundreds of crores came to light. It involved Ajit Pawar, the present deputy CM but more importantly Sharad Pawar’s nephew, and 2G scam accused Vinod Goenka.
In 2007 and 2008 while Ajit Pawar was irrigation minister, the state irrigation department gave away about 2 lakh sq ft along the old Mumbai-Pune highway to a company named AG Mercantile. The land measuring 93,646 sq ft and overlooking Bhilavle dam in Raigad district was given on a lease for 99 years in 2007. The only condition attached with the allotment was that the company would spend money on the repair and maintenance of the dam. The next year, the company was allotted an additional 97,000 sq ft in lieu of constructing a road and a bridge.
It has now emerged that Ajit Pawar had owned 8,800 equity shares of AGMercantile while Goenka was one of the directors of this company. In all his asset declarations so far, Ajit Pawar had never mentioned these shares.
On some part of the land thus allotted, AGMercantile built lavish bungalows and swimming pools that it claimed were intended to attract tourists.
NCP spokesman Awhad told TEHELKA that Pawar did purchase 8,800 shares of AGMercantile in 2005, but they were sold the same year. He also claimed that the land was allotted through an open and transparent bidding process.
Before the AGMercantile controversy, Pawar was involved in another scandal involving his connections with a Punebased builder. In January, former journalist Ketan Tirodkar filed documents before the Bombay High Court, which showed that Pawar had connection with Punebased builder Avinash Bhosale.
The documents also showed that Ajit Pawar’s aide Shivaji Kale had acquired as many as 75 properties in Pune district between 2004 and 2009. In three properties, Kale and Pawar were joint owners. Kale and Pawar’s wife Sunaitra Pawar were co-directors in three private limited companies. Tirdokar questioned Kale’s source of income and how he had amassed such staggering wealth in a span of five years. “Kale is just a frontman for Pawar,” Tirodkar told TEHELKA.
Interestingly, Shivaji Kale has also got a flat at Adarsh. But in his affidavit filed while applying for the flat in 2004, Kale had mentioned that his income was less than Rs 12,000 per month.
It also emerged that the family members of Bhosale, whose net worth would be not less than 1,000 crore, had also got two flats at Adarsh. One flat was allotted in the name of his father and another in his sisterin- law’s name.
In their applications for Adarsh flats, Bhosale’s relatives mentioned their residential address as Jijai Bungalow, Yashwant Ghatge Nagar Co-op Society on University Road near E-Square, which is now Ajit Pawar’s residence in Pune.
The question then arose: who owns the bungalow? Ajit Pawar or Avinash Bhosale? Both have been giving contradictory statements about the title of the bungalow. Awhad told TEHELKA that Pawar had rented the bungalow from Bhosale for his minor son.
Despite being marred by a series of scandals, Pawar continues to be the deputy chief minister of the state.
An IAS officer who was to later join the NCP gave away 322.7 acres saying it was lying vacant
ON 20 August 1953, the Mukund Bhavan Trust controlled by KM Goenka, Vinod’s father, got revenue rights over 3.27 acres of land in Yerwada village, Pune. The rights were granted under controversial circumstances. The trust and the district administration had been locked in a civil suit before a local court where the latter was opposing a claim made by the former of being an inamdar — a royal title in Maharashtra by which kings used to confer revenue rights to their loyalists — of a 3.27- acre plot.
The title was abolished in Maharashtra on 1 August 1953, when the Bombay Personal Inam Abolition Act came into force. However, 20 days after the abolition, the trust and the government pleader struck an out-of-court compromise whereby the pleader, who actually didn’t have any authority to strike any kind of deal with the litigant, agreed to recognise the revenue rights claimed by Goenka’s trust. The court passed a compromise decree, which remained unchallenged until 1956, when Mukund Bhavan Trust approached a civil court pleading to execute the 1953 decree. The district administration strongly opposed the move, claiming that the compromise struck by the government pleader was illegal.
The litigation continued till 1988, when Pawar became CM. Suddenly, the government did a volte face. The then district collector Shriniwas Patil, who later took voluntary retirement from the Indian Administrative Service in 1999 and got into the Lok Sabha from Pawar’s party, the NCP, in 1999 and 2004, accepted the claims of the Trust. But instead of awarding 3.27 acres, the collector shockingly gave away 322.7 acres of prime land in Pune city’s Yerwada locality — and added for good measure that the entire chunk of land was in vacant and peaceful position with the government. He also mentioned that he had already handed over 97 acres of land, which he claimed was lying vacant to the Trust. In reality, the land had various government offices and institutions like jail, mental hospital, military installations, etc. Accordingly, the civil judge of Pune passed a consent decree on the out-ofcourt compromise reached between the trust and the district collector.
On 25 May 1990, the Pune collectorate changed the title of 70 acres of land in favour of Mukund Bhavan Trust.
In 1991, when the Trust again approached the government demanding possession of the entire 322.7 acres of land, the officials of the revenue department at the secretariat panicked. By now Pawar had gone to the Centre and Sudhakarrao Naik had taken over as CM.
Realising the magnitude of the scam, they asked the court to declare the previous Collector’s order null and void. The Maharashtra government now claimed that there was no such vacant land. On the contrary, it hosted institutions like Yerwada jail, offices and forests. The government said that some of the land was earmarked for schools, playground, green belt, community shopping centre, maternity home, parks and community residential schemes.
In 2003, the Sushilkumar Shinde government in an outof- court settlement transfers the land to the trust.
THE OPPOSITION parties, mainly the Shiv Sena and the BJP, have long relinquished their job of keeping a vigil on the wrongdoings of the ruling coalition. Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray and Sharad Pawar share a very cordial relationship.
More often than not the scams have come to light because of the investigations carried out by RTI or social activists. Once a scam is exposed, the Opposition does a usual song and dance of comeuppance before the pubic memory fades away.
A year ago while addressing a public rally, Pawar openly accused a senior BJP leader of first raking up scams and then entering into secret financial negotiations with the ruling alliance.
In a few instances, scams have surfaced because of the infighting within the Congress.
Rate at which Tech Park One, a company owned by the family of Sharad Pawar, bought 26,000 sq m
in Pune from Mukund Trust. Market value of built-up area of 46,000 sq m was Rs 70 crore[/box]
Like after 26/11 when the Congress ignored Narayan Rane’s claim to the post of chief minister and instead chose Ashok Chavan to replace Deshmukh, Rane released a CAG report that had indicted Deshmukh for illegally allotting a 2 lakh sq m plot to the Vilasrao Deshmukh Foundation, a trust run by the former CM. The land was allotted against the laid norms and at a throwaway price, causing a loss to the exchequer, the CAG had observed.
Rane claimed that Deshmukh while he was the chief minister had kept the report under wraps so that the scam should never come out. Congress brushed aside the CAG report with the argument that the discrepancies in the land allotment were only technical in nature.
Deshmukh told TEHELKA that he would not like to comment on this issue since it’s sub-judice.
The same CAG report indicted veteran Congress leader Patangrao Kadam, who is presently the minister for forest, rehabilitation and relief work. The report said Pune-headquartered Bharati Vidyapeeth, an educational trust controlled by Kadam and his family, was allotted a 20,000 sq m plot to set up a dental college at Belapur in Navi Mumbai at “just half the price fixed for such allotments”. But new CM Ashok Chavan didn’t take any corrective measures. Nor did the Opposition haul the government over the coals for what was a clear case of corruption and nepotism.
Total worth of residential building projects being developed in Mulund, Mumbai,by
Matoshree Infrastructure, a company owned by Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena[/box]
One of the most shocking scandals around allotment of land to educational trusts run by politicians happened in 1990 when Patangrao Kadam ‘bribed’ a farmer who was fighting a legal case against the ‘illegal’ allotment of 20 acres to Kadam’s trust in Pune and got the legal proceedings dropped.
In the 1980s, Kadam’s trust Bharti Vidyapeeth College requested the Pune Collector for 20 acres to set up an educational institution. The collector acceded to the demand. But the allotment was attached with a rider. It was a disputed piece of land. The farmers whose land the government had acquired had filed a civil suit against the state. The Collector made an entry in the land card that if the high court rules in favour of the farmers, then Kadam’s trust will have to return the land.
On 31 October 1990, Kadam entered into a notarised agreement, a copy of which is with TEHELKA, with Dhadphale, the farmer who was fighting the case on behalf of all the evicted farmers, whereby Kadam agreed to give free admission into MBBS, BDS, BE and BHMS courses to five grandchildren of Dhadphale and in lieu of which the farmer relinquished his rights. But since he was the only farmer who was a little educated and was contesting the case, hence when he sold out, the rights of the rest of the farmers got a quiet burial.
SINCE TAKING over as chief minister, Prithviraj has revoked several controversial real estate projects. And in some cases, he has ordered a probe on how private developers were favoured by manipulating laws and procedures.
For instance, he has cancelled the allotment of 53 hectares of prime land in Pune to a consortium led by DB Realty.
In 2009, the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in Pune gave 53 hectares in Bhosari area to a consortium named DB Conwood Man Ajwani in which DB Realty had a 51 percent stake. The corporation also gave the builders 2.5 floor space index (FSI) for the entire plot.
Rate at which 230 acres of land in the villages of Powai, Kopri and Tirandaz was sold to Niranjan Hiranandani in 1986 on an 80-year lease to construct public amenities. While 15 percent went to low-income housing, the rest was converted into luxury apartments measuring 2,000-5,000 sq ft and sold at the rate of Rs 8,000- Rs 15,000 per sq ft[/box]
The land was allotted to construct 5,000 houses, each of 350 sq feet, for the economically weaker sections under a Central government scheme called the Jawaharlal Nehru Nagrik Poonarnirman Yojna. This would have required just 7 hectares, since under the law, provisions have to be made for green zone, community centre, roads and open space.
When the Opposition raised the issue in the Assembly last month, Prithviraj revoked the project and ordered a highlevel inquiry into the alleged scam.
Another project involving construction of luxury villas and resorts along the NH-4 in Pune has been suspended. The project was spread over 300 acres of hill slope land and the necessary permission and clearances for construction were granted by Ashok Chavan’s government. The developers are believed to be close to Sharad Pawar’s family.
One may argue that the staggering figure of Rs 1.7 lakh crore, at which the CAG had pegged the 2G scam, is only a notional loss. The auction of 2G spectrum may have filled up government coffers but the common man would not have benefited by enjoying cheaper telecom rates, so goes the argument.
However, there can be no contest about the loss arising out of land scams in Maharashtra. Public lands bundled out to developers for a pittance has only benefited the builders and the politician-bureaucrat nexus. The money that could have gone into building the much required urban infrastructure for the masses has instead gone into secret Swiss bank accounts and building gigantic business empires for a few. Such is the scale of loot that even a person with a salary of Rs 1 lakh per month in Mumbai commutes four hours everyday to work and back as he simply can’t afford modest housing in the central parts of the city or even accessible suburbs.
Prithviraj may have momentarily stalled the rampaging builder lobby but the rot runs far too deep to be rooted out by just a few revokes.
Sharad Pawar and former Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel used to frequently fly with Balwa and Goenka in their private aircrafts.
After years of denial over involvement with the Lavasa hill resort project, Pawar has only recently conceded that the project was actually his brainchild and he had invited private developer Ajit Gulabchand of Hindustan Construction Company to develop the private hill township.
Supriya Sule and her husband held a 21 percent share in the project that they had offloaded in 2005. The National Alliance of People’s Movements has alleged that these shares were allotted to the Sules at highly undervalued rates.
Pawar has admitted that his daughter and son-in-law had a ‘minor stake’ but has remained mum on the financial details of the deal — the rate at which the Sules had picked up the stake and the rate at which it was divested.
Hiranandani built posh Powai where the poor were to live
IN 1977, the Maharashtra government announced a housing scheme for economically weaker sections, Powai Housing Development Scheme, to be implemented over 140 hectares in the villages of Powai, Kopri and Tirandaz.
On 19 November 1986, the government entered into an agreement with builder Niranjan Hiranandani, handing over 230 acres on an 80-year lease at the rate of 40 paise per acre. In return, the builder was supposed to construct flats for economically weaker sections at the rate of Rs 150 per sq ft.
Shockingly, an inquiry initiated by the MMRDA Commissioner with the help of the civic administration in 2009 revealed that out of the 5.74 lakh sq m of builtup area that was sanctioned by the government, the developer had used just 76,120 sq m, that is just 15 percent, for low-income housing. The rest was converted into luxury apartments measuring 2,000-5,000 sq ft and sold at the rate of Rs 8,000- Rs 15,000 per sq ft.
The MMRDA imposed a fine of Rs 1,993 crore but the builder has only paid Rs 3 crore so far. The NGO Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan has filed a PIL before the high court praying for the confiscation of over Rs 30,000 crore that they estimate the builder has earned from the scam. The matter is now pending before the Bombay High Court.
Between 2004 and 2009, dozens of properties belonging to the Wakf Board in Mumbai have been sold illegally to private builders. Mukesh Ambani’s billion-dollar mansion Antilia at Altamount Road in south Mumbai has been built on 4,532 sq m that belonged to the Wakf Board. A PIL challenging the land allotment is pending before the Bombay High Court.
“Over the past two decades, every government in Maharashtra has been the government of the builders, by the builders and for the builders. They have sold out the whole city to the rich and have relegated the middle class and to the outskirts of the city and the poor have been consigned to the slums,” says Ravikiran Deshmukh, former political editor of Mumbai Mirror.
Given the high stakes in maintaining the status quo, Prithviraj has his work cut out for him.
Ashish Khetan is Editor,Investigations with Tehelka