A realty group has put up hoardings across the city, purportedly promoting the Swachhata Mission, with photographs of PM Narendra Modi and CM Vijay Rupani, signing off with its mall project brand name Agora 2, for which the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) is yet to give its nod, pending a PIL in the Gujarat High Court. Shree Balaji Group — the construction subsidiary of Manav Infrastru-cture — which is redeveloping the proposed Sanjaynagar slum rehabilitation scheme (SRS) of the VMC, has chosen the Navratri festival to brand a proposed luxurious residential project with a high-end mall. The developer has been given the contract by the VMC under the state government’s Public-Private-Partne-rship (PPP) model.
The hoarding, bearing prominent photographs of PM Modi, CM Rupani and the logo of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, along with a symbolic face of Goddess Durga, reads, “Navratri is a festival that symbolises power, faith and verve. Come, residents of Vadodara, let us forge an unbreakable bond and pledge to Swachh Bharat.” It signs off as “Shree Balaji Group, Agora 2 (mall) Vadodara” with a silhouette of the design planned for the facade of the mall. According to VMC officials from land, estate and commercial department, the permission for the hoarding was granted under the “religious hoarding” head. An officer said, “We don’t check the contents of hoardings before approving the permission. We only give permission for hoardings under the head of religious event.”
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The builder has previously advertised the mall at the site of the slum redevelopment scheme, seeking advance bookings. However, the VMC town planning department is yet to clear the mall that the builder has been branding. VMC Town Development Officer Navendu Parikh said, “We have not yet cleared any proposal for the construction of the Agora 2 Mall.” According to VMC records, the builder currently has the permission to construct only the residential scheme to rehabilitate the displaced slum-dwellers of Sanjaynagar. That project, too, is under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the petition filed by city activists for the damage caused to the Vishwamitri River in the city.
A separate PIL seeking a stay on the Sanjaynagar project is pending before the Gujarat HC. In the last hearing on June 9, the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, Justice R Subhash Reddy, issued a notice to the VMC to place on records “all facts” related to the ongoing redevelopment scheme, which has run into controversy over alleged land encroachment by the developer and advertisement for commercial sale in the form of Agora 2 Mall. The PIL, by Congress vice-president and advocate Shailesh Amin and five other party leaders from the city, seeks a direction from the HC to declare the development project handed out to M/s Manav Infrastructure by the VMC under the PPP as illegal and unconstitutional for being “against public interest”. VMC’s advocate Maulik Nanavati had told the HC that the VMC had not granted any permission to the developer for commercial activity on the land.
The VMC awarded the project to redevelop the land measuring 4.27 lakh square feet, under the PPP model, to Ahmedabad based Manav Infrastructure Pvt Ltd. vide a resolution on June 13, 2014, for a net premium amount of Rs 21 crore, after deducting the construction cost of Rs 35.89 crore for 771 flats of about 300 sq feet, to rehabilitate each of the displaced families of Sanjaynagar. However, the on-site advertising hoardings put up by the construction firm, Shree Balaji construction, promises luxurious 2, 2.5, 3 and 4 bedroom apartments, and a mall that will boast of a multiplex, bowling alley, spas and restaurants. On these hoardings that cover the boundary of the plot, there is no mention of the actual SRS scheme under the Mukhyamantri Gruh Yojana (MGY), for which the digging of the plot began a few days ago. The MGY hoarding, in fact, stands tucked away at the far back end with an independent approach on completion.
Balaji Group chairman Ashish Shah said, “We have no political motive behind putting these hoardings. When we spend money, we wanted to send across a message to the people with a signage of our company name in the hoarding. We have only said Shree Balaji Group and Agora 2 Mall. We are only promoting Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as maximum people are out during Navratri and we wanted them to see the message.” Shah denied that the ongoing PIL would affect his claim on the land. “We have not put up any commercial hoardings for Agora 2 Mall. We are confident that the PIL in the HC will be dismissed soon on merits. Even if I sign the hoarding as Agora 2 Mall, there is no way that my permission for the mall will be denied. Once I construct the slum redevelopment scheme, the other land parcel belongs to me for commercial use.”
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