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Mumbai-Nagpur highway: Probe land grab in Thane, says activist

Mumbai city news: An activist with farmers’ group Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti has taken matters into his own hands, and has moved the revenue department seeking answers.

mumbai Updated: Jul 18, 2017 12:29 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Devendra Fadnavis,Mumbai-Nagpur expressway
(Picture for representation)

With chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ promised probe into claims that government officials illegally purchased land along the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway going nowhere, an activist with farmers’ group Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti has taken matters into his own hands. He has moved the revenue department seeking answers.

A complaint filed by Thane-based activist Baban Harne with the principal secretary of revenue department, Manu Kumar Srivastav, last month points to certain individuals, including a relative of a senior bureaucrat in the chief minister’s office, purchasing large tracts of land with six others along the highway, in violation of the Maharashtra Agriculture Land Ceiling Act, 1961.

According to this law, a farmer can hold 18 acres of irrigated land or 27 acres of land with assured irrigation for one crop or 54 acres of dry crop land. Additional land belonging to any person is to be taken back by the government.

“Our preliminary calculations based on land records show this group of people, led by a senior official’s relative, own nearly 200 hectares or 480 acres of land in just Thane district. There needs to be an independent scrutiny into the lands owned by them, its classification, because this surplus land holding is illegal and at the cost of the government. There has been blatant disregard of laws and false affidavits to get these lands regularised and this has the blessings of seniors in the government,’’ said Harne. Harne said if the revenue department fails to do justice, they would move the high court in the matter.

Read: Mumbai-Nagpur super highway: 5 reasons why Nashik farmers are unhappy with compensation

The complaint filed on June 20 (a copy of the complaint is with HT) calls for an independent probe into the matter stating that a local sub divisional officer (SDO), who led an inquiry in September last year, gave these purchases a clean chit. The complaint makes reference to land purchased by Venkateshwara Gupta and Piyush Bongirwar along with five others in Shahapur and Murbad talukas. It alleges connivance of local officials with these individuals in purchasing large tracts of agricultural land. Some of this land falls close to the alignment of the super communication highway and the names of these land owners along with relatives of several government officers had figured in the complaint made to the chief minister during the winter session of the state legislature in December last year. While a probe in the issue was promised in the legislature, there has been little to show by way of progress in the past six months.

Piyush Bongirwar is the son of former chief secretary of the Arun Bongirwar and brother-in-law of a senior bureaucrat in chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ Office.

“I am neither aware of the said purchase nor have I spoken to anyone about the same. And all legal action should be taken to stop any irregularities, if any. There is no connection with the CMO or myself in these land transactions or the said inquiry. No file has passed through my office,’’ said the senior bureaucrat.

Piyush Bongiwar told “This refers to some land purchased by a group of us. We submitted relevant documents of the land before the sub divisional officer and on the basis of that, a judgement was given in our favour. There is nothing irregular in this purchase.”

Gupta is a close associate of Bongirwar — both are directors together in a firm called Harihar Life Space and are also associated with the Alamuri Ratnamala Institute of Engineering and Technology. Gupta was not available for comment. He told HT he was not in the city and hence could not comment.

Read: Maharashtra farmers protest Mumbai-Nagpur highway, call it their road to ruin

In May last year, Shahapur tehsildar had referred the case of land purchase of surplus 118 hectares (283 acres) in four villages of Sathgaon, Mokhawane, Bhatsai and Sapgaon by Gupta, Bongirwar and others to the SDO for a hearing. Sub divisional officer Dr Santosh Tithe, in his report dated September 23, 2016, had regularised this purchase as not exceeding the land ceiling. A copy of this report is with HT.

Harne, in his complaint, challenged this clean chit pointing out to various factual errors and bypassing of laws in the probe. These include not classifying land as irrigated or dry land, blanking out several survey numbers and purchases made in 2012 in Mokhane village, not considering land purchased in other villages, including Tember, Thile, absence of scrutiny of land purchased by these individuals elsewhere in the state so far and considering land purchases under Hindu Undivided Family or ancestral land holdings, when they did not fall in this category.

The report in granting a clean chit to Gupta and Bongirwar does make reference to Section 6 of the Agriculture Land Ceiling Act. This section refers to additional leeway of 10 more acres a member being given to large families with more than five members. This is with reference to ancestral property or land holdings. The inquiry said Gupta, with eight members, and Bongirwar, with six members in the family, could get their land ceiling holdings increased to 84 acres and 64 acres respectively. The report noted that Gupta held 69 acres of land in these villages, while Bongirwar owned 63 acres and as such had not violated the law.

Principal secretary (revenue) Srivastav was not available for comment. Sources in the CMO told HT an initial probe in the matter assured in the winter session had been entrusted with chief secretary Sumit Mullick. So far, sources said district collectors had been asked to collate information about government officials and their kin purchasing land along this alignment, but no headway had been made in the probe.

Read: Five reasons why Mumbai-Nagpur super communication highway is not a good move

First Published: Jul 12, 2017 16:11 IST