The state government on Tuesday said it would probe irregularities, if any, in the Lavasa Hill City project.
Revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat said this in the Assembly after a three-hour debate on the issue. The Opposition walked out after the government turned down its demand for a joint legislative committee to probe the alleged irregularities.
Thorat defended the project and said no special favours were granted to Lavasa Corporation, which is developing the project by acquiring 18 villages in Pune district's Mulshi and Velhe talukas.
He said if the state found that someone had tried to grab the land of tribals, it would restore their rightful ownership.
The Union environment ministry had issued a show-cause notice to Lavasa on November 25 alleging violations. It ordered work on the site to stop until it decides on Lavasa's reply to the notice.
The state tried to corner the saffron alliance saying the clearances given to Lavasa were based on policies framed by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the 1990s. “There is nothing wrong if the state encourages private investment to develop a hill station. Based on the policy [on developing hill stations], the then government had allowed the creation of Aamby Valley near Lonavala,” Thorat said. “Now, if we use a provision of the same policy why is the Opposition getting upset?”
He defended the state's decision to allot more than 600 hectares of surplus land acquired under the land ceiling act to the private hill station. He said the Krishna Valley Corporation giving away 141 hectares acquired for the dam to Lavasa on a 30-year lease was an irregularity only because the corporation had failed to inform the revenue department about it. He said the transfer was not illegal because the Krishna Valley Act allowed leasing of land for tourism, beautification and development.
Thorat rejected the Opposition's demand for a probe under the Commission of Inquiry Act.
During the debate, BJP legislator Devendra Fadnavis asked why the government gave Lavasa Corporation permission to act as a special planning authority. He alleged that Union minister Sharad Pawar's relatives were shareholders of the company.
“The government's favouritism towards the project can be gauged from the fact that the then chief minister held a meeting at the Lavasa guesthouse on July 14, 2007, where Sharad Pawar, then irrigation minister, Ajit Pawar, the chief secretary, additional chief secretary (urban development), chairman of Lavasa Corporation Limited, Ajit Gulabchand, and other directors of the company were present and took some vital decisions in support of the project,” Fadnavis alleged.
He said these decisions include allowing a height of 30 metres for hotel buildings, 15 metres for service quarters, global and floating floor space index, grant it government land and appointing Lavasa Corporation the special planning authority for the hill station.
Nationalist Congress Party legislator, Jitendra Awhad, said the charges against Lavasa were false and politically motivated.