Politicians and bureaucrats in Mumbai are bracing for another storm over a premium residential complex coming up on land that used to be in the hands of the Army, this time in suburban Malad.
The allotment of the one-acre plot at Malad, leased by the Army from the state government and sold by the latter to a private company in June 2007, has come under the scanner of the Union ministry of defence. This follows reports that the army had to vacate the land due to pressure from the higher-ups.
State industries minister Narayan Rane on Thursday said the final clearance for allotting the Malad plot had been given by then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Rane, who was revenue minister when the decision was taken, said the land deal was cleared since the defence authorities had given their no-objection certificate. “The land deal had all the NoCs from the defence establishment. It was the [Mumbai suburban] collector’s proposal that came to me. We followed right procedures before forwarding it to the CM,” Rane said.
Deshmukh had given final clearance to the sale as any land deal in Mumbai valued at over Rs25 lakh goes to the chief minister for clearance.
Deshmukh, then chief minister, told the Hindustan Times that he did not know much about the deal. “I’m traveling now and I will get back to you once I get information.”
Revenue secretary Swadhin Kshatriya said he was gathering information from the collector. “I will comment only after two-three days.”
Significantly, the suburban collectorate, which gave the green signal for the sale put the onus on the defence establishment saying that it had withdrawn initial objections.
A senior official from the collector’s office, who declined to be named saying he was not authorised to speak to the media, told the HT that there was a precedent to sell the plot if the lessee did not object to it. “Initially the defence had raised objections, but we went and convinced them after which they backed down,” said the official. He further said there were no orders for any probe in this matter from the higher-ups.
The land in question was in the possession of the Central Ordinance Depot (COD) since 1942 and the sale took place despite resistance from the COD.
Meanwhile, the Kalpataru Group, which owns the Neo-Pharma, the company that bought the land, has defended the deal saying it was state government land bought at market price. Kalpataru also said it had stopped encroachments on this empty plot on a number of occasions.
According to the press statement issued by Kalpataru, it had approached the collector for the land in 1999. In 2001, the collector asked those holding neighbouring plots if they had any objections.
In 2004, the collector also sent a reminder to the defence establishments for their objections. Finally in 2007, based on the collector’s recommendation, the revenue departments gave the green signal to sell the plot at the market price of Rs 5 crore. The land was handed on July 9, 2007. In 2008, the representative of the COD and the collector were present to mark the boundaries of the plot, stated the Kalpataru release.