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Towering scandal

mumbai Updated: Oct 25, 2010 23:46 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

How does a six-storey structure meant to house Kargil war heroes and widows get converted into a 31-storey tower filled with the who’s who from the corridors of power?

The story of the plush Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in south Mumbai is about collusion of top bureaucracy, defence commanders and politicians to get a share in city's costliest real estate address in Colaba, where a 1,000 sq ft home can fetch Rs 5 crore — according to conservative estimates.

The high rise flat built on a plot of 6,450 sq metres within the Colaba Military complex (now the ownership of the land is a matter of contention between the Navy and the state government) that was cleared on the condition of housing war veterans, today has 104 members that include senior army commanders, a former environment minister, legislators and state bureaucrats.

Even as the Navy wakes up to a mega controversy in its backyard, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the authorisation agency for this land, has already handed over the occupation certificate to the society — perhaps the last clearance required for the tower.

In the last six years — the land was handed over in 2004 — promoters of the society have managed to get a host of clearances — that could take any other developer over a decade — from the urban development department, revenue department, civic body, etc.

Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan told Hindustan Times that this was an “old matter”. The list of the members of the society gives an idea of how the saga unfolded across government files — by extending concessions or overriding government laws. The society cleared by two former Congress chief ministers, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushilkumar Shinde, has as its members former city civic chief Jairaj Phatak's son Kanishka, Food and Drugs Administration commissioner Seema Vyas (who is the wife of finance secretary and former Mumbai collector Pradeep Vyas), Mumbai collector Idez Kundan, and former deputy secretary of the urban development department P.V. Deshmukh.

Politicians who figure in the list include Congress legislator Kanhailal Gidwani, NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad, former speaker of the state legislature Babasaheb Kupekar, former power minister Suresh Prabhu, and NCP MP Shriniwas Patil.

The state handed over the plot to the society for Rs 10 crore — one third of its market value — to the society by changing land use of the plot from recreational to residential. Within a year of forming the society, the government facilitated additional FSI for the plot by keeping a 2,669 sqm plot reserved for a bus depot empty. This was done in exchange of just Rs 6 crore.

By 2007, the six-storey building had a formal approval from the high rise committee to go as high as 31 storeys. This is not permissible in the coastal regulatory zone II, where the plot falls. But, environmental concerns were buried under the carpet.

“The issue was never moved to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority for clearance,” said a former environment official. “And technically the green go-ahead should have come from the Centre. We were told the clearance was granted by discretion of the urban development department, MMRDA and BMC.”