Maharashtra govt takes back 66 acres of leased land in Mumbai | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Maharashtra govt takes back 66 acres of leased land in Mumbai

Land with estimated value of more than Rs3,000 crore, had been leased in the ’80s, but the lease owner breached agreement by transferred rights of land

mumbai Updated: Jan 17, 2018 08:47 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
This land at Kanjurmarg had been leased out for industrial development in 1984 to Jolly Brothers Private Limited (JBPL) for 99 years.
This land at Kanjurmarg had been leased out for industrial development in 1984 to Jolly Brothers Private Limited (JBPL) for 99 years.(Praful Gangurde)

After handing out several prime government-owned plots for literally a song, the state now has a chance to correct one of its past mistakes. Three months ago, in a rare action for recent times, the Mumbai district collectorate took back 66 acres of its leased land at Kanjurmarg. This land had been leased out for industrial development in 1984 to Jolly Brothers Private Limited (JBPL) for 99 years.

The order to resume this land — now estimated to have market price of more than Rs3,000 crore — for violation of lease agreement, was first given in 2012. It got confirmed again in 2016, but until November last year, the land continued to be in the possession of the lease owner.

“The land is finally in our possession and we are now in the process of cordoning it off with a boundary wall to avoid encroachment. Nearly 58 to 60 acres of this land is vacant and can be used for public good. That could be affordable housing or it can be auctioned off to shore up revenue for the exchequer. However, this decision will be taken by the state’s revenue minister and the cabinet,’’ said a senior revenue department official, who did not want to be named.

It is learnt JBPL has appealed against this order to the revenue minister, but this could not be confirmed.

While government records show JBPL as the lease owner, the ministry of corporate affairs registry shows two companies based in Mumbai by the same name. The company incorporated in 1951 and the original lease owner is defunct, but a company incorporated in 2003, a subsidiary of the Ajmera Group, has claimed ownership of this land. Ajmera Group refused to comment on the issue, but one of their directors said the company would comment at a later stage. HT had sent an email, text message and made calls to the group’s officials and senior leadership.

The past track record of the state government in using land for public benefit has not been inspiring — the mill land development in central Mumbai being a case in point. But revenue minister Chandrakant Patil reiterated his government would not regularise wrongdoing and scams in lease hold properties during the former Congress-NCP regime, which can help earn crores for the state exchequer.

If Patil is indeed serious about correcting a wrong, he can go no further than this case.

The back story of this 66-acre plot — how use on this land was converted from industrial to other uses — highlighted in a recent state legislature’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report tabled last year, shows decisions taken to favour private interests instead of the state exchequer. The recommendations in the PAC report that had slammed the state prodded the district administration to take back the land.

The PAC audit and government revenue records show that the district collector in 2012 passed an order to resume this land after it was noted by the district administration that the lease owner had entered into a third-party agreement with the Ajmera Group. “In 2012, the collector ordered for the land to be taken back in possession after it was noticed that the land had a site office of Ajmera Developers,’’ states the PAC report.

If not for that breach, the government in 2010 had cleared all decks for development on this land by allowing the lease owner to change the use of land, raise resources for development and even mortgage the land for this development, if required. This was done by just charging a nominal 5% of the land value or Rs32.74 crore as ‘unearned income’, according to the report.

The PAC had questioned the rationale behind charging only 5% as unearned income in 2010, when in 2005 the government in a similar case had levied 50% unearned income to allow change in land use. The committee had also pointed out that there were no records to show who had taken this decision as that file had been burnt in the 2012 fire in Mantralaya. “How do we fix responsibility when only this particular file has been burnt and there are no records to show who took this decision?,’’ questioned a PAC member, who refused to be named.

The collector’s decision of 2012 to resume land was challenged before the divisional commissioner and even stayed by that official. However, the then collector had dug in his heels and gone in appeal against the divisional commissioner’s order to the revenue minister, who sought a re-inquiry in the whole case in 2014. In 2016, another official, who had taken over as the city district collector held a hearing again and confirmed the resumption orders of his predecessor.

For the past one year, these orders were not implemented. The district collectorate officials said that the hurdle was a high court order in 2007 pertaining to 4 acres and ten gunthas of the 66 acres.