The controversy surrounding the Kanjurmarg Metro car shed land turned murkier on Tuesday, with the Congress releasing official documents to question the previous BJP-led government’s role.
The documents, released by state Congress leader Sachin Sawant, indicated that the previous Devendra Fadnavis government had taken up a private developer’s proposal to build affordable houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’s public private partnership model after earmarking the Kanjurmarg land for construction of the car shed for the ongoing Metro 6 corridor.
According to the documents, the state revenue department – then headed by BJP’s current Maharashtra unit president Chandrakant Patil – had on June 11, 2019, formed a committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) Manoj Saunik to study the private developer’s proposal of building 1 lakh houses on the land.
The developer, a construction major, had approached the government claiming that it possessed the leasehold right of the land, which according to it was originally leased out by the Centre’s salt department to a person named Nanabhoy Bhiwandiwala for 99 years, in 1917. A government resolution in this regard, a copy of which has been accessed by The Indian Express, shows that the government had also recommended the committee to suggest how to renew or revalidate the leasehold right of the developer. The original lease expired in 2016.
But seven months before this development, documents show that Patil, acting in a quasi-judicial matter in his capacity as the revenue minister, had dismissed the salt department’s plea that the erstwhile salt pan land belonged to it. In an order passed on November 1, 2018, Patil had ruled that the land in question was vested absolutely in the state government.
The Uddhav Thackeray government has cited Patil’s 2018 order while allotting the 102-acre land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) for building an integrated car shed for the underground Mumbai Metro 3 and 6 lines and two other proposed corridors.
On October 1, Mumbai (Suburban) Collector Milind Borikar had transferred the land to the MMRDA, after which the chief minister had announced the relocation of the Metro 3 car shed from Aarey to the Kanjurmarg land.
Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court had put a spanner in these plans by staying the implementation of the collector’s orders, and admitting the Centre’s plea that the land belonged to it.
Sawant also contended that the state urban development department, during the Fadnavis regime, had reserved the Kanjurmarg land for the Metro 6 car shed and had even indicated this in the corridor’s detailed project report.
While Fadnavis has argued that the Kanjurmarg land was also considered by his government for Line 3 and that cost implications and legal hurdles had forced it to drop the idea, Sawant produced an official undertaking by MMRDA Commissioner R A Rajeev – dated March 28, 2019 – showing that the planning body, then led by Fadnavis, had committed to pay “market value to the Centre’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion for these lands”.
The Congress leader further questioned the previous government’s move of considering the private developer’s request of land development. Questioning the BJP’s opposition to building the Line 3 car shed at Kanjurmarg, Sawant alleged that the “Opposition was driven by financial and business interests that were detrimental to larger public good”.
State BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhye, meanwhile, accused Sawant of spreading lies and misleading people. “The moot question is that the land in question is stuck in litigation and private parties have claimed possession of it. The Congress is trying to mislead people,” he said. “The previous government had always maintained that the erstwhile salt pan lands vested in the state. A demand of this nature was also made in the meeting of the Centre’s Western Council. The committee (for development of salt pans) was formed on the basis of discussions held during the meeting,” he added.
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