National Herald case: Fadnavis govt to probe allotment of land to AJL

  • Ketaki Ghoge, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Dec 26, 2015 11:21 IST
A view of Associated Journals Limited office. (PTI)

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday tasked additional chief secretary Gautam Chatterjee with investigating the allegations of commercial construction on a Bandra plot allotted by the state government to M/s Associated Journals that published the National Herald newspaper.

“As of now, Chatterjee will look into whether or not any irregularity was committed on the plot; if yes, to what extent, and based on his report we will decide what action should be taken,” Fadnavis told Hindustan Times.

During the just-concluded assembly session, Fadnavis had announced an inquiry in the matter after it was raised by the BJP city chief Ashish Shelar.

Shelar demanded that the government cancel the allotment and reclaim the plot as Associated Journals had failed to use it for the stated purpose.

Chatterjee, who has been given one month to submit his report, will investigate whether there were any irregularities in the transfer of the land, whether the land use reservation was changed, and whether this caused loss to the government.

The probe assumes significance in the context of the ongoing political war between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. M/s Associated Journals is the holding company of the defunct publication National Herald with party veteran Motilal Vora serving as its chairman.

The market price of the 3,478-sq-metre plot is estimated at Rs 250 crore. It was allotted in 1983 on a 30-year lease to build a Nehru Memorial Library and Research Centre. The plot was originally reserved for a hostel for scheduled caste students, but the company hadn’t built anything. A year’s extension on the lease was granted in 2013. The same year the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in Mumbai gave permission to build a commercial building on the plot.

Information obtained through an RTI by activist Anil Galgate shows that there were plans for an 11-storey building with a minimum 135-car parking space and 14 offices on the allotted plot. Ashok Chavan, the state Congress president, refused to comment on this matter saying that he was unaware about the development.

Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the government rules permitted a certain amount of commercial use of every allotted plot. “However, in this case, political vendetta is very evident. The way the chief minister has set up a committee to investigate the allegations clearly shows BJP’s mindset,” Sawant added.

Last Saturday, a Delhi court granted bail to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi in a related National Herald case where BJP leader Subramanian Swamy accused them of illegally acquiring property worth crores of rupees belonging to the now defunct newspaper in New Delhi.

(With inputs from Faisal Malik)

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