Defence ministry’s letter to CBI triggered Adarsh scam

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Apr 30, 2016 01:16 IST
In January 2011, MoEF declared the 31-storey structure as illegal . (Pratham Gokhale/HT)

It all began with the Ministry of Defense forwarding a reference to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to enquire into the allegation that a prime piece of land in plush Colaba area – admeasuring 3,758 square meters - belonging to the defense had been allotted by Maharashtra government to a co-operative housing society.

The scam came to limelight only after newspapers revealed the shocking allotment of land by the state government. City activists – Santosh Daundkar and Simpreet Singh – then unearthed several more shocking facts and lodged formal complaints with the Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau. They moved high court after the ACB failed to take any action on the complaints alleging that not only the plot was allotted arbitrarily, but Floor Space Index – to the extent of 2,700 square meters, of an adjoining plot of land reserved for BEST bus depot was also allowed to be consumed by the controversial housing society. Besides, they alleged that, though the plot falls within Coastal Regulation Zone, no prior environmental clearance was obtained before putting up the 31-storied structure.

However, despite hue and cry over the alleged illegalities in the allotment of the plot, permission to consume FSI of adjoining plot reserved for BEST bus depot and allotment of flats in the society to the near and dear ones of the political leaders and bureaucrats at the helm of affairs, no concrete action was taken by the CBI until it received a severe rap from the Bombay high court.

“This is clear cut manipulation by Collectorate and the Urban Development and Revenue ministries,” the division bench of Justice BH Marlapalle and Justice UD Salvi had said on December 21, 2010, while hearing PILs filed by Simpreet Singh and others.

“It appears everybody who handled the files (pertaining to Adarsh) has been gifted with a flat,” Justice Marlapalle had added referring to mysterious incorporation of names of some “star members” like NCP MLC Jitendra Avhad, Shivsena leader Suresh Prabhu, NCP leader Dilip Valse-Patil, chairman of Legislative Assembly Babasaheb Kupekar and kins of senior bureaucrats like – Onkar Tiwari, Ranjitsing Sangeetrao, Devyani Khobragade.

The court was also upset with the “CBI inquiry” apparently leading nowhere, and sought to know what concrete action was being proposed. “Don’t tell us that you are going to set up an Enquiry Commission, we have seen enough of commissions,” Justice Marlapalle had slapped, adding, “We want time bound and stern action against erring officials.”

Finally, on January 29, 2011, the CBI registered an FIR and booked 13 persons, including former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, for their purported role in the housing society scam under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

On July 4, 2012, CBI filed a 10,000-page charge-sheet against 13 persons, including former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, late ex-MLC Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, serving bureaucrats Jairaj Phatak and Pradeep Vyas and retired bureaucrats Ramanand Tiwari, PV Deshmukh and Subhash Lalla.

The country’s premier investigating agency however, dropped prosecution against two former defense estate officers – PK Rampal and Romesh Chandra Sharma named in the FIR owing to lack of evidence, and instead roped in a new accused – RK Bakshi.

Meanwhile, in November 2010, after a team of CBI officials from Delhi visited the office of the Collector, Mumbai Island City, and MMRDA seeking documents related to the land, MMRDA in December 2010 revoked the Occupancy Certificate granted to the controversial housing society. The revocation of the Occupancy Certificate for the building, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) disconnected water supply to the building and the BEST undertaking disconnected electricity supply to it.

The housing society, then approached high court challenging the action taken by the three authorities – revocation of OC by MMRDA and disconnection of water and electric supply by BMC and the BEST respectively. But, it failed to get any relief from the high court, which rejected the society’s plea for interim relief on December 23, 2010.

At this time, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) was conducting hearings on a notice issued to the housing society, as to why its building should not be ordered to be demolished for not obtaining prior environmental clearance. Eventually, in January 2011, MoEF declared the 31-storey structure as illegal – being constructed without valid environmental clearance – and directed the society to pull down the high-rise in plush Cuffe Parade area.

Maharashtra government had in January 2011 set up a commission headed by Justice JA Patil, retired high court judge, and P Subramanyam, retired Maharashtra chief secretary, to inquire into various issues surrounding allotment of land, utilization of FSI in construction of 31-storey structure of Adarsh Co-operative Housing Soceiety. The commission, in its interim report, said that the land belonged to the state government, and was not reserved for anybody. Later it submitted its final report confirming the interim opinion.

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