A charity trust has sold government land worth an estimated Rs 60 crore in the real estate goldmine of South Mumbai to a private builder — a transaction that the government itself has signed off on.
An inquiry by a senior Maharashtra government official has confirmed the lapse, and the developer — who has paid a small fraction of the market value of the land — has expressed willingness to take “corrective steps”.
Officials at the state revenue department, however, said action would be initiated only after the inquiry report is thoroughly examined. The land, measuring 15,066 sq ft, in Mazgaon, was sold by Cutchi Lohana Niwas Griha Trust (CLNGT) 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.
Market values for residences in Mazgaon are currently around Rs 40,000 per sq ft. CLNGT is not the owner of the land. The land was subleased to it by a Christian church body nearly a hundred years ago, the tenure of which ran out in 2002. CLNGT’s application for renewal of the lease remains pending.
The government woke up to the irregularity a week after the conveyance deed was executed in favour of Gold Plaza Developers when, on June 2, 2010, the company approached the Mumbai Collector’s office to record the sale transaction of the property card.
It however took until January 15, 2013 for the then Mumbai Collector, Chandrasekhar Oak, to issue notice to CLNGT, asking “why the lease should not be terminated” for breaching the law. While the Maharashtra Revenue Tribunal dismissed an appeal filed by the developer against this order that same month, no further action was initiated against either CLNGT or the developer.
After allegations of corruption and connivance in the transfer were made against senior officials, the state government finally directed, earlier this year, Konkan Divisional Commissioner Radheshyam Mopalwar to probe the transaction. Mopalwar submitted his report on August 12, confirming the transaction was unlawful.
Official records accessed by The Indian Express show that the land was originally leased for 99 years to the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church on December 17, 1917. The Society was then already in possession of the land, and the lease was deemed to have come into effect on September 1, 1903.
On October 23, 1918, the Society sub-leased the plot to CLNGT. However, no independent lease agreement was executed between the government and CLNGT, Mopalwar found. The lease lapsed on August 31, 2002.
With its application for a renewal of the lease still pending, however, the trust applied to transfer the land. In its application, it described the land as “freehold and owned”. The application was approved by the office of the Joint Charity Commissioner on May 17, 2010. The land was sold to Gold Plaza after bids were invited.
In the conveyance deed too, CLNGT described the land as “freehold and owned”. The deed was subsequently recognised and registered by the Joint Sub-registrar of the state Cooperatives Department.
While the total worth of the 49,312 sq ft parcel is estimated at Rs 200 crore, Gold Plaza paid Rs 3.51 crore in cash, and agreed to build an auditorium, a 500 sq ft office, and 10 rooms, each of 300 sq ft. Despite the government having stayed both the transaction and redevelopment plans, the builder has put up a sign at the gate that says ‘This property belongs to Gold Plaza Developers Pvt Ltd’, along with pictures of the proposed ‘Lohana Heights’.
Girish Jain of Gold Plaza Developers said, “We relied on the property card for the title search. We have already informed the government that we are willing to undertake corrective steps, if technical mistakes have been committed.”
Tulsidas Thakkar, trustee of the Cutchi Lohana Griha Niwas Trust, said, “The trust called for tenders on the basis of property card records. While signing the conveyance deed, the developer has confirmed that he has investigated the property’s title and was fully satisfied with it.”
Thakkar also conceded, however, that the trust had applied for the renewal of its lease. Earlier in 2005, CLNGT had assigned the lease of a neighbouring plot to another builder without the mandatory consent of the government. This irregularity was eventually regularised by government orders in 2008 and 2010.
Divisional Commissioner Mopalwar declined to comment. “My report is self-explanatory,” he said.