Controversy continues to follow former Maharashtra chief minister and current Union Minister of Heavy Industries Vilasrao Deshmukh’s allotment of land during his term as CM.
A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), submitted in the Bombay High Court last week, pointed out irregularities in the allotment of land to filmmaker Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods film institute in Goregaon (E) and to the Vilasrao Deshmukh Foundation in Latur — when Deshmukh was Maharashtra CM.
Rajendra Sontakke and four other farmers from Latur and Osmanabad have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) alleging gross abuse of power by Deshmukh. Refuting the allegations, Deshmukh told Hindustan Times that only the relevant departments make land allocations in accordance with regulations. “It is not done by the chief minister. I was never directly involved. We will explain the facts in court,” said Deshmukh.
In October 2000, the Maharashtra Film Stage and Cultural Development Corporation Limited (MFSCDCL) got into a joint venture with Ghai’s Mukta Arts to start Whistling Woods, with an authorised share capital of Rs 20 crore.
Mukta was to put in Rs 17 crore and MFSCDCL was to get the land allotted. MFSCDCL and Mukta were to share equity, at 15 and 85 per cent respectively. The PIL claims it was Deshmukh who was primarily interested in the venture because of his son and actor Riteish Deshmukh, resulting in the allotment of 20 acres of land to Whistling Woods International Pvt Ltd.
The CAG report says: “The land was valued at Rs 325 per sq m instead of the prevailing market rate of Rs 3,900 per sq m. The implication of undervaluing the land was that the government’s contribution towards the joint venture was considered to be only Rs 3 crore instead of Rs 31.2 crore.”
Despite the CAG report citing “undue benefits to a private company”, no action was taken against the officers involved in valuing the property. In 2001, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation allotted 2 lakh sq m of land to the Vilasrao Deshmukh Foundation.
The PIL asks for the joint venture to be quashed, and for the land to be returned to the government. It also asks for the quashing of the land allotment to the Vilasrao Deshmukh Foundation.