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Towering scandal

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?

mumbai Updated: Oct 26, 2010 00:25 IST
Ketaki Ghoge

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 Indian Navy wakes up, a tad late, 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. This certificate is 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, civic high rise committee, etc.

Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan told Hindustan Times that this was an “old matter’’. But, he could not say for sure whether this plot legally belonged to the state.

“Before announcing any probe we will have to look into the ownership of the plot — whether it is owned by state government or not,’’ he said. 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 and environment minister Suresh Prabhu, 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 Floor Space Index (FSI) for the plot by keeping a 2,669 sq metre 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 of the civic body 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 and the MMRDA besides the BMC.”

Jairaj Phatak, whose son Kanishk has a flat in the society, told HT: “My son became a member of the society in 2003-04, when I was the secretary of school education and had no say in land allotment or town planning permissions. He met all the eligibility criteria. No sane person would have refused the membership.’’

However, Phatak was the municipal commissioner in 2007, when the society got additional FSI and as well as clearance from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) high rise committee.

FSI determines the amount of construction allowed on a plot. Higher the FSI, more are the number of floors that can be added.

Phatak said that the concerned land development approvals were under the purview of the MMRDA and the matter came to the high rise committee only because the MMRDA does not have an in-house committee to clear approvals for skyscrapers. Pradeep Vyas, who was the serving Mumbai collector when the society was formed and thus cleared the eligibility of the candidates, has found a place in the society through his wife, Seema Vyas.

“No comments. I am in midst of election duty,’’ said Seema as she put down the phone. Mumbai collector Kundan and P.V Deshmukh, deputy secretary of the urban development department, were not available for comments.

Congress’ Gidwani said the society had all the legitimate clearances and if there was an ownership contention at this stage, the government should be asked questions.