The Mumbai police has lodged a case of cheating and forgery against trustees of a Mumbai-based charity trust and a private developer for the illegal sale of a government land worth Rs 60 crore. The land, measuring 15,078 square feet, in Mazgaon, where real estate prices for residential properties are currently hovering around the Rs 40,000 per square feet mark, was sold by the Shree Cutchi Lohana Niwas Griha Trust (SCLNGT) as part of a 49,312 sq-ft parcel to real estate developer Gold Plaza Developers through a conveyance deed registered on May 24, 2010.
Earlier on August 4, Mumbai (City) Collector Dr Ashwini Joshi had submitted a confidential report to the state revenue department, in which she had confirmed that trust had unlawfully parceled out the land to the developer even though it was not the plot’s owner.
The Indian Express, which had first written about the controversial transaction on September 16,2014, is in possession of all official documents pertaining to the controversy.
According to official records and the Collector’s report, the government-leased land had been subleased to the trust by a Christian church body nearly a hundred years ago, the tenure of which ran out in 2002. The trust then applied for the sale of land to the private developer even as its application for renewal of the lease was pending with the government. The Collector’s report had pointed out that in its application to the Charity Commissioner’s office for permitting the transfer or sale of land, the trust described the entire land (including the leased portion) as “freehold” and “owned by it.” The application was approved by the Office of the Joint Charity Commissioner on May 17, 2010. The trust entered into a conveyance deed with Gold Plaza after bids were invited. The deed, now termed unlawful by the government, was also recognised and registered by the Joint Sub-Registrar with the Cooperative Department on May 24, 2010.
Ironically, while the Mumbai police’s FIR has slapped forgery, cheating, and conspiracy charges against SLNGT trustees and the developer, it has so far not built a case against the government officials who had permitted the transaction.
The FIR was lodged in the Byculla police station on the basis of a complaint filed by Assistant Superintendent of Land Records in Mumbai Collector’s office, Pramod Chavan.
While the Collector’s Office has already recommended that the government resume the lease land, sources said that any decision regarding launching of disciplinary action against errant government officials can be taken at the Mantralaya level. “Largescale irregularities have been noticed for the leased land portion. The lease had expired in 2002 and had not been renewed. But the SCLNGT unlawfully sold the land. A criminal case will be lodged in the matter. It is also necessary to reclaim possession of the leased land. The state government (revenue department) must take further action in this regard,” Joshi’s 13-page report to Principal Secretary, (Revenue) Manukumar Srivastava had revealed.
The Indian Express contacted a couple of SCLNGT trustees. One of them said the trust was yet to receive any formal communication regarding the Collector’s report or the FIR, and that the trust was willing to fully cooperate with the government in the matter. When The Indian Express had contacted Girish Jain of the Gold Plaza Developers on August 11, he had said, “We have already applied to the government for converting the lease grant to occupancy under existing provisions.”
In her report, Joshi has also pulled up the trust for other breaches including “unauthorised change of use” and “irregular sub division of the land” among others. She has even raised a “suspicion of tampering” on an 1893 property deed concerning the land. In fact, the trustees and the developer could be headed for some more trouble with the Mumbai Collector’s office also investigating the tenure for another 33,000 square feet land in the same parcel.
Following complaints from Jayesh Kotak, an activist, who first blew the lid off the controversy that this 33,000 square feet portion also wasn’t owned by the trust, sources revealed that a further probe has been taken up for verifying official records in this regard.
The irregularity had first come to light on June 2, 2010, when the construction firm approached the Mumbai Collector’s Office for recording the sale transaction on the property card. But no further action had been initiated against the trust or the developer so far.
While former Collector Chandrasekhar Oak had served the trust a show cause notice over the breach on January 15, 2013, no further action was launched. Then on August 12, 2014, then Konkan Divisional Commissioner, Radheshyam Mopalwar submitted a report to the government confirming that the transaction concerned the leased portion was unlawful.
Ironically in 2005, SCLNGT had similarly assigned the lease of a neighbouring plot to another builder, without the mandatory consent from the government. This lapse was eventually regularised by government orders in 2008 and 2010.