THE CONTROVERSY surrounding Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil’s order pertaining to a 23-acre prime plot in Pune’s Haveli tehsil deepened on Thursday after it became evident that the government itself is divided on the issue.
A day earlier, the Opposition had alleged that Patil, who enjoys the No. 2 position in the Maharashtra government, had used his ministerial powers to overturn administrative orders for categorising a “Devasthan Inam (temple Inam) land” as a private property to unduly favour a land developer.
On Thursday, even as Patil made a statement on the floor of the Legislative Assembly contending that the land in question was never an Inam land, a land record from the government’s own register surfaced, which contradicted the minister’s stance.
A land record obtained from the Haveli tahsildar’s office showed that the land in question continues to be categorised as “Devasthan Inam Class III” even today. NCP leader Jayant Patil, a former state minister, claimed that he had formally obtained the record under the Right to Information Act on Thursday morning.
On the basis of the “newly obtained” land record, Jayant levelled fresh allegations of graft against Patil, demanding his resignation and an inquiry against him. “If the chief minister does not order a probe into the matter, we will file a PIL,” he told mediapersons later.
The government record (copies of which have been accessed by The Indian Express) in question is the Alienation Land Register (ALR), which is maintained by the tahsildar, collector and the archives divisions, providing historical details regarding land grants and tenures of land disposed of by the state in the past.
“In the ALR record of 1861-62, there is a clear-cut entry that shows that on November 28, 1861, the 23-acre land was allotted as ‘Class III Devashthan Inam’ by the then Bombay Governor to the Mahtoba Devasthan. The assistance Inam commissioner has passed an order in this regard. It (the land) continues to be classified as an Inam land even today in the government’s land records. The minister has misled the House,” claimed Jayant.
Earlier making a statement in the House, Patil had claimed that the concerned land was “originally owned by Chimna Ramji Saali”. He added: “…After his death in 1909, it was mutated in the name of his legal heirs. According to him, it was only in 1955, when the Mahtoba Devasthan trust was registered with the charity commissioner. Since it was a family trust, this was later mutated in the name of the trust.”
Just as Patil claimed that the temple trust had obtained the charity commissioner’s permission to convey the land to the Radha Saomi Satsang Beas (RSSB), a non-profit organisation, in 1998, Jayant submitted official papers in the House to show that in 1963, a local tribunal had ruled that this land wasn’t a private land. Incidentally, records show that the Pune collector had disallowed the transaction, objecting to the charity commissioner’s permission as well.
On February 19, 1998, the temple trust, through its power of attorney holder N S Chhabria, has assigned the land to RSSB, which later approached the collector and the divisional commissioner for regularisation after officials objected to it.
Patil admitted that on August 22, 2008, then divisional commissioner Nitin Kareer, who is now the principal secretary (Urban Development), had argued that the trust had violated terms of allotment, and had ordered the regularisation on the condition that the Nazrana (fee) levied by the government is paid. His order stated that RSSB had then submitted an indemnity bond declaring willingness to pay the fee.
But Patil claimed that this had been submitted “under protest”. On December 15, 2018, when the RSSB approached the collector’s office for permitting non-agricultural activity and issuing the NA (non agriculture) certificate for the land, this was turned down, with the collector’s office pointing that the Nazrana for the regularisation of the original breaches was yet to paid.
Three days later, Pune’s divisional commission, too, echoed the collector’s order, against which the RSSB filed a revision appeal before Patil.
On February 28, 2019, Patil, overruling the previous observations made by senior officials, ruled that the land was not an ‘Inam Devasthan’ land. “It is a private land and hence, no prior permission of the government is required for assigning it,” his order stated. Overturning the divisional commissioner’s orders, Patil ruled that the NA certificate should be issued without levying any fee. Ironically, Patil has also referred to the ALR register to justify his decision. “The ALR of 1885 proves that it is a private land.” His order, issued in quasi-judicial capacity, does not mention if the administration’s side was heard before passing it.
On December 5, 2018, the RSSB had sold the land to Chugera Properties Indian Private Limited for Rs 84 crore. Jayant has claimed that the property was worth Rs 250 crore in the open market, and that a Nazrana of Rs 42 crore, payable to the state, was foregone.
Meanwhile, in another Pune land matter, where allegations were raised against Patil on Wednesday, the revenue minister, while defending his actions, announced that “directives to initiate action” would be issued if irregularities were detected in the land transaction.
Jayant had alleged that Patil had stayed a re-measurement order issued by local authorities against developer Shivpriya Realtors LLP for a land worth Rs 300-crore in Balewadi after it was found that a seven-acre public reservation land, adjoining the developer’s property, had allegedly been incorrectly shown as part of his property.
The land is reserved for a public playground. Patil, who had passed an order in this regard on December 10 last year, has denied any wrongdoing in this matter as well.
While Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is yet to speak on the issue, two senior BJP ministers — Vinod Tawde and Sudhir Mungantiwar — rallied behind Patil during Assembly proceedings, which had to be adjourned thrice following a war of words between the ruling and Opposition benches. On Thursday, Jayant also levelled fresh allegations over the functioning of the Patil-led public works department.