Court slams Deshmukh,scraps land he ‘gave away’ to Ghai film school

The apex court had also ordered the Maharashtra govt to pay Rs 10 lakh penalty in the case

Written by Express News Service | Mumbai | Published:February 10, 2012 3:23 am

As chief minister of Maharashtra,Vilas Rao Deshmukh — who is now union minister for science and technology — played a “deprecable” role in allotting 20 acres in suburban Goregaon to Bollywood producer-director Subhash Ghai’s film institute,Whistling Woods International Private Limited (WWIPL),the Bombay High Court said today.

Calling the allotment illegal and ordering the filmmaker to return the land to the state,the bench said: “The role played by Respondent no. 7 (Deshmukh) in the entire transaction is deprecable… Here is a case where all norms of transparency and reasonableness have been given a go-by. The present case is a classic example of arbitrary,unreasonable and illegal decision of permitting the use of available land owned by the government,without any authority of law.”

In December 2010,the Supreme Court had come down heavily on Deshmukh in a case where he was accused of preventing the police from registering a criminal offence against Gokulchand Sananda,a moneylender from Buldhana district and the father of a Congress legislator. The apex court had also ordered the Maharashtra government to pay Rs 10 lakh penalty in the case.

Today,Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice G S Godbole,in their 53-page judgment,noted that there was no authorisation given by the state government to use the land for the joint venture (JV). “All government functionaries were unanimous in their opinion that the original JV agreement was completely without any authority of law…,” the court said.

Two PILs filed by Rajendra Sontakke and four others from Latur and Osmanabad and Abdul Hamid Patel and Amar Sneh from Mumbai respectively,had alleged that Deshmukh had illegally permitted the allotment of the sprawling plot to WWIPL through a JV between Ghai’s Mukta Arts and Film City Corporation (FCC),under the state government,on May 30,2000.

The court observed that Deshmukh completely misused his power as the CM and granted “undue favours” to Ghai by allotting the land,valued at Rs 31.20 crore by the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG).

The court directed WWIPL to surrender the plot to FCC and pay rent arrears of Rs 5.30 crore since October 24,2000,the day the plot was handed over to the institute until it is given back to the FCC.

While the court asked the 15.5 acres of the plot to be returned to the FCC immediately,it said the remaining 5.5 acres on which the institute building stands should be surrendered by July 2014 when about 400 students pursuing various courses in the institute would have completed their respective courses. However,WWIPL will have to pay rent to to the FCC until the 5.5 acres are surrendered.

Accepting the request of Ghai’s lawyer,however,the court,stayed its judgment for eight weeks.

In his defence,Deshmukh had said that he signed the JV on the spur of the moment and there was no evidence to show that he had any role to play in the alleged illegal allotment of the land.

The court was,however,not convinced. “The Respondent no. 7 being the highest functionary in the state must be held to be aware of the legal provisions regarding public property.” The judges said that they couldn’t accept Deshmukh’s explanation. “Viewed from any angle the entire exercise of executing such a JV agreement has to be considered to be entirely illegal.”

Even though there was no formal resolution by the board of directors of the FCC or any order of the government in support of the JV agreement,the judges wrote,the FCC Managing Director and Ghai were “emboldened by the fact that their action had the blessings of the highest functionary (Deshmukh).”

The court also observed that apparently after the petition was filed,“various efforts were made to somehow to regularise or legalise the entire transaction.” However,since WWIPL is not a trust or a society it was not found eligible for allotment of government land and “ultimately the government has accepted in the affidavit that the transaction is illegal,” the judgment states.

The judges,however,stated that they found no substance in the allegations that the allotment of the plot was a quid pro quo between Ghai and Deshmukh,who was allegedly trying to brighten the career of his actor son Riteish. The court,therefore,stated that it did not feel that a CBI inquiry against Deshmukh was necessary in the case.

Reacting to the court’s decision,Ghai said: “We respect the High Court’s judgment and we will appeal to the Supreme Court for our lawful rights. We are at no fault and have done nothing wrong. We had a legal JV in 2002 with the Film City and to use the land for building a world-class film and media institute which was challenged by a PIL in court after 10 yrs and we hope we will get full justice from the Supreme Court.”

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