The row over prime land in Andheri allotted at throwaway prices in suburban Mumbai to a trust promoted by Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla’s family refuses to die.
Even as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan attempted to end the controversy Friday by directing the state administration to reclaim possession of the land, the government is in a bind over the trust’s demand for a reimbursement of Rs 3 crore, which it claims to have spent on the plots since these were allotted to it in 2007.
While Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) Swadhin Kshatriya said the demand was being examined, senior officials said prevalent norms did not permit any such reimbursement. A senior official said neither the letter of allotment nor the agreement signed with the trust for the land contained any such provisions.
BAG Films Education Society (BFES), headed by Shukla’s wife Anuradha Prasad, was allotted a plot measuring 2,821 sqm, which is reserved for a municipal school, for a paltry Rs 98,735 in 2007. The trust was also leased an adjoining 3,534 sqm plot, reserved for a playground, for 15 years at Rs 6,309 per year. In fact, when the trust applied for the land, Shukla himself was the BFES secretary.
While the trust took possession of plots in February 2009, the allotment triggered a controversy last November after details emerged showing that months after the plots were allotted, BFES had plans to enter into a joint venture with RIMS Institute, a management education institute which also runs schools and junior colleges.
While Shukla has maintained that “my intention was to build to a school for slum-dwellers residing there and that no commercial activity was proposed on the plots”, Assem Rais, director, RIMS International, had confirmed that firm’s ex-managing director Museeb Rais might have given a proposal to Shukla in 2007. “This has been without our knowledge or consent. We would like to state the same is not valid any longer,” Rais said.
Even as Shukla defended trust saying it was yet to lay a brick on the school plot and that the allotment was as per government’s prevalent policy, the issue led to a public outcry.
Though BFES first wrote to Chavan on December 4, 2013, “offering to return the land in case irregularities were found”, it sent a detailed communication to the Chavan’s office on Thursday.
Arguing that the trust was “in no position to construct a school on the plot owing to various hurdles”, the latest letter, which is signed by BFES’s authorised signatory Ajit Deshpande, asked the government to take back possession of the land immediately. “The trust will withdraw its security arrangements from February 15 onwards,” it informs.
Claiming it had spent Rs 3 crore on the plots since 2007, BFES has also demanded that this be returned to it.
“The school plot was fully encroached at the time of taking possession of the land in 2009. The society has been struggling for five years to get it vacated. While 314 unauthorised structures were removed and another 29 relocated, the plot continues to be encumbered,” BFES has said, adding that it cannot develop the plot due to lack of NOC for development from the BMC.
New policy for land allotment gathers dust, no action against other trusts
While Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had announced last December that his government was ready with a new policy in which land allotment would be based on prevalent ready reckoner rates, the government is yet to roll it out. “The policy is under consideration,” Kshatriya said. The Indian Express had carried a series of reports highlighting how other trusts, mostly backed by influential politicians, were similarly allotted plots for various purposes and there were irregularities in the process. But the government is yet to act against these. “I have asked collectors to review all such allotments and take appropriate action in cases where there are irregularities,” Kshatriya said.