Imagine getting 1,500 sq ft of office space at Nariman Point — one of Asia's costliest real estate addresses — for a paltry Rs 8,000 a month, ie, about Rs 6 per sq ft.
Most Mumbaikars can only dream of this, but that's precisely the rate the state government charges political parties that have been dealt out prime real estate on lease for their offices.
Never mind the fact that market-rate rent on plots leased out to the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and the BJP could have fetched a whopping Rs 36 crore a year. Instead, the cashstrapped state makes a mere Rs 12 lakh a year from the plots.
But the parties haven't even bothered to pay the meagre amounts they owe, a petition before the Bombay High Court has revealed. Ironically, the petition was filed by a political party, the Krantikari Jai Hind Sena (KJHS), because it was denied a similar plot.
The Public Works Department (PWD), which owns the property, has admitted that the parties haven't been paying up.
While the market rate is Rs 150 to Rs 200 per sq ft, parties are charged a mere Rs 6. An affidavit filed by the PWD on October 3 mentions that getting the parties to cough even this up is difficult as CM Vilasrao Deshmukh granted a stay on the recovery of dues after an application filed by the Congress and other parties.
"Had it not been for our petition, this would have never come out in the open," said Ramchandra Kachave, KJHS' advocate.
"The court also asked if the CM has the authority to grant such a stay." Public Works Minister Chhagan Bhujbal maintained that his department was following court orders. "The matter is being handled at a lower level; I don't have more details," he said.
Officials handling the files could not be contacted as they were on Diwali vacation. The matter will come up for hearing again in the first week of November.
I. Congress, Azad Maidan and Nariman Point
Area: The party has four offices — two each for Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee and Mumbai Region Congress Committee. Three of these are near Azad Maidan, while the fourth is at Nariman Point, totally covering 10,767 sq ft.
Allotted: Between 1970 and 1981
Rent due: Rs 3.2 crore
Market rent: Rs 16 lakh a month (@ Rs 150 per sq ft)
Party is supposed to pay: Rs 64,000 a month
II. Bharatiya Janata Party, Nariman Point
Area: 2,682 sq ft
Allotted: In June 1979
Rent due: Rs 20.59 lakh
Market rent: Rs 4 lakh a month
Party is supposed to pay: Rs 16,000 a month
III. Shiv Sena, Nariman point
Area: 1,500 sq ft
Allotted: In May 1995
Rent due: Rs 43,415
Market rent: Rs 2.25 lakh a month
Party is supposed to pay: Rs 8,000 a month