The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has slammed the Maharashtra government for giving undue privileges to the developers of Lavasa, a hill station being built near Pune. The CAG said in its report, which was tabled in the state legislature on Tuesday, that the regulations framed and amendments made to the existing laws and procedures were propelled by private rather than public interest.
“The amendments, which diluted well-established government procedures, were made to ensure that Lavasa Corporation Limited had a free hand to develop the project to serve its own commercial interest at the cost of public interest,” the CAG report says.
Lavasa, meanwhile, has refuted the findings. “Time and again, allegations have been leveled against Lavasa. These are based on misconceptions. Whilst we suspect lack of clarity and understanding of the facts, we also at times sense an element of mala fide intent amongst some detractors,” said a statement released by the company.
Lavasa said that it has directly purchased more than 10,000 acres of land through private negotiations at the prevailing market prices, over the last eight years. The land transactions have been conducted within the relevant regulatory framework.
The auditor has recommended a social cost-benefit analysis of the Rs2,800-crore project, and has said there was lack of transparency in selection of the developer. The report says Lavasa did not seek the government’s permission to buy land belonging to tribals. It adds that granting of special planning authority to a private firm without any control by the government leaves scope for irregularities, perceived conflict of interest and violations of environment laws.
Denying the charge that it bought tribal land, Lavsa said that no land purchased by Lavasa has been categorised under the 36A category, which is the tribal land category. “In fact, most of the land has been purchased from people having ‘farmer status’ who live in Mumbai, Pune, London, New York, Dubai etc,” said the Lavasa statement.
It also denied profit-making. “That Lavasa is a five-star city being developed only for the rich is a myth. Like any other city, Lavasa will cater to the entire spectrum of population.”
The CAG has blamed the government and its agencies for disturbing the ecologically fragile environment in the region by going out of their way to facilitate one project, and for violating conditions laid down for the project.