Five years after a Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report questioned the allotment of prime land in Mumbai to charitable organisations linked to politicians at throwaway prices, the Maharashtra government has finally decided to do away with the existing policy in this regard.
Slashing some of its own discretionary powers, it has decided to issue guidelines regarding such land allotments. In 2013, a CAG report had found violations of terms of allotment – ranging from not using the plot for the purpose allotted within the set deadline, delay in payment of premium or interest and illegal change of use – in several cases, most of which involved concessional allotments made to trusts backed by top politicians and celebrities.
The CAG had also pointed out that a majority of these allotments were made in an arbitrary fashion. “There was a lot of discretion involved. There were no fixed guidelines. The allotments were on the basis of the notifications formulated three to four decades ago,” a senior official said.
It was in 2016 when Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had first declared plans to formulate the new policy after a controversy had broken out over one such allotment in the suburbs of Mumbai to a trust backed by a sitting BJP parliamentarian. But nothing much was done thereafter.
Later, on April 16, 2018, the Supreme Court, while hearing a related petition, had also come down on the state government for failing to formulate concrete guidelines. “In our opinion, it would be appropriate if the Government of Maharashtra frames a policy which stands scrutiny of Article 14 of the Constitution. Prime facie various notifications placed on record do not indicate any policy for allotment of land to the charitable institutions. In the meanwhile, no allotments should be made on the basis of existing notifications,” the top court had stated. Following the court’s rap, the state’s bureaucracy swung into action, formulating a new policy, which has now been cleared by the state’s cabinet as well. Sources said that this will be rolled out in the coming days.
Under the new policy, the government has made it mandatory for officials to issue public advertisements, announcing its intention to allot land for charitable purposes and making it open for all eligible organisations and institutions. Sources said the new policy will be applicable for all allotments made for charitable purposes — including those for setting up hospitals, colleges and schools. It will be applied all across the state.
Ironically, the government has retained the discretion of exempting the procedure in case of allotments of land to be made to esteemed public charitable organisations or for allotments made for research related purposes. It has also allowed officials to waive off the procedure in cases of land exchange proposals for vital development proposals. Earlier on July 10, 2019, the government informed the Supreme Court that it will “consider any request for grant of government land strictly in terms of the new policy.” In the case of land in Mumbai, sources, however, said there weren’t many revenue lands left for allotment at all.