The row over the allotment of a prime plot at Bandra to Associated Journals Limited, the company that published the now-defunct Congress mouthpiece, National Herald, is likely to intensify with a probe report pointing to several violations of the lease conditions.
Former bureaucrat Gautam Chatterjee tasked with the probe in December by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis submitted a 20-page report to the revenue department late on Monday night. Sources told HT that the report found that commercial construction far in excess of the norms had been allowed. The land was allotted in 1983 and 30 years later, in 2013, the BMC cleared construction of an 11-storeyed commercial building on it.
Sources told HT that the report has pointed out that while AJL, associated with the Nehru Gandhi family, required 20,000 sq feet for building a Nehru memorial and library, and setting up a printing press, currently construction of more than 83,000 sq feet was under way. Most of this was commercial even though the lease permitted only15 per cent of commercial construction to subsidise the rest. The report also pointed out that for nearly three decades, the government did not act to take the plot back, though it could have. The report, however, does not recommend taking back the land now.
While the state government is yet to take a call, the state BJP has demanded that the BMC issue a stop work notice and that the plot be taken back. How the state government proceeds could depend on the BJP’s strategy for the upcoming session of Parliament where a lot of legislation has been blocked by the opposition led by the Congress.
“Our party stance is clear that this land must be forfeited and taken back from the company. This kind of land allotment typifies the kind of largesse past Congress-NCP governments doled out at the cost of public interest. We are fine if it opens a Pandora’s box; all those who benefited are from the Opposition,” said BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari.
Revenue minister Eknath Khadse was more circumspect: “We got the report late last night. It will be put before the cabinet and then a decision will be taken on further action.
The report has looked into various aspects including lease conditions, land use, extension granted to the lease etc.
“We don’t have faith in such reports. This is vicious way to target the opposition. AJL got the plot of land, like various other media houses, under an existing policy. The ongoing construction has all the approvals from the state and the BMC, so the only reason it is being singled out is political,’’ said Sachin Sawant, Congress spokesperson.
The Bandra plot issue came under the spotlight after Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were dragged to court in Delhi after Subramaniam Swamy filed a case accusing them of trying to take over the National Herald’s properties.