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Sinister haveli sale in Rajasthan

Controversy has erupted over the legality of the sale and purchase agreements on the grounds that the ownership of the havelis vests with the state Govt and is not transferable to private individuals, reports KS Tomar.
By KS Tomar | Hindustan Times, Jaipur
UPDATED ON FEB 14, 2008 12:51 AM IST

Influential individuals known for their proximity to Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje are in the eye of a storm for having “captured” quaint havelis scattered in the vicinity of the historic fort at Amber — Rajasthan’s old capital.

Controversy has erupted over the legality of the sale and purchase agreements on the grounds that the ownership of the havelis vests with the state government and is not transferable to private individuals.

Two havelis measuring 466.66 square yards and 1,463.47 square yards were purchased in 2006 at throwaway prices of Rs 9 lakh and Rs 21 lakh apiece by Heritage City Constructions Private Limited - which initially had Sajjan Kumar Modi and Satyanarayan Singh Rohar as directors.

The real players emerged on the scene after a year, when the company was suddenly taken over by Ananda Heritage Hotels Private Limited. Raje's close confidant and Rajasthan Cricket Academy (RCA) chairman Lalit Modi and his wife Mrinalini control the new company. Both are directors of the new company and — by consequence — of the two havelis.

Modi told Hindustan Times that his company had “bought these havelis, which were private properties, lying in a dilapidated condition”.

The deal was finalised through a broker, Suresh Patodiya, and there is no illegality about it, he said, adding that he and his wife were legally within their rights to join a company after it was constituted by other directors.

As part of the makeover plan for Amber Palace, the state government constituted the Amber Development and Management Authority some time ago. Strangely enough, the Authority is headed by Chief Secretary DC Samant and includes the chief minister as a member. The body includes some close friends of the chief minister.

Authority CEO Salauddin Ahmed said the two havelis were "private assets" and not government property. However, documents in the possession of Hindustan Times indicate otherwise.

Court order no 8/91.E.V of 26.10.96 says that the haveli in the possession of one Vikas Bhattacharya (sold to Lalit Modi's company) is government property. Way back in 1974, the state government first issued eviction notices to occupants of some havelis on the ground that these were 'Nazool' (government) properties. Encroachment notices were issued from time to time over subsequent years.

Bhattacharya admitted having sold the haveli as he had possessed it for the past 38 years. The occupant of the other haveli -Bimlesh Bhattacharya - also sold the property on the basis of his possession for the past four decades.

Inputs from Srinand Jha

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