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State cabinet allots 5.5-acre plot to Whistling Woods for 30-year lease

Decision taken despite finance department saying it will not be appropriate to give land or financial support to an institute, which is profit-making

mumbai Updated: Sep 26, 2018 00:06 IST
Faisal Malik
Faisal Malik
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Whistling Woods,Film City
Whistling Woods at Film City, Goregaon. (HT file photo)

Ignoring the objections raised by the state finance department, the Maharashtra cabinet on Tuesday decided to allot 5.5 acres of land to Whistling Woods International, a film and television institute of Bollywood filmmaker Subhash Ghai, on lease for 30 years.

This is the same plot on which Whistling Woods Institute is situated at Film City, Goregaon. The state government will get an annual rent of ₹47.18 crore from the plot. The decision will be placed before Bombay high court, where the matter is still pending. Subhash Ghai did not respond to HT’s calls and messages. But speaking on Monday, Ghai had said, “We have asked for the entire 20-acre plot, as we need to have a hostel and other facilities on the campus for the students. We are also expecting lease on concessional rates, as we are running an educational institution. It will not be possible for us to pay huge amount as lease rent.”

The decision was taken despite the state finance department saying it will not be appropriate to give land or financial support to an institute, which is profit-making.

“The move may also cause revenue loss to the state exchequer,” said the department in the proposal put up before the cabinet.

HT on September 25 reported that the state government was planning to allot the land to Whistling Woods on lease.

Senior BJP leaders had criticised the erstwhile Congress-NCP regime for giving the land to Ghai’s Mukta Arts for a paltry sum. The then BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman had sought the resignation of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the then Union science and technology minister, over the issue after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) slammed the decision in 2012.

Deshmukh as chief minister had approved the deal in 2000.

State finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar clarified that the government is following the high court directives. The cabinet decision will also be placed before the court for approval.

“The decision will be implemented only when the high court approves it. The earlier deal was challenged in the court as Maharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation (MFSCDC) signed a joint venture agreement with Whistling Woods without keeping the state revenue department, which is the owner of the land, in the loop. Now, this is not the case,” Mungantiwar said.

On Tuesday, the proposal was moved by the state cultural affairs department saying that the 5.5-acre plot should be given to Whistling Woods.

“The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has said that Whistling Woods eminently qualifies as an institution of higher education,” the proposal stated.

The proposal was moved to allot the plot after taking the opinion from Advocate General (AG) who had suggested two options — either to wait for the final decision of the review petition in the high court or to arrive at a decision that is not only mutually acceptable and beneficial but also in the public interest and then place it before the high court.

The move will bring a major relief to the film institute that was facing threat of losing the plot.

First Published: Sep 26, 2018 00:06 IST