It would have been just another expensive sea-facing real estate along South Mumbai’s upscale Colaba-Cuffe Parade area which is home to many serving and retired bureaucrats and politicians. Just when the 31-storey Adarsh tower was all set to be occupied in October 2010, the then Chief of the Western Naval Command Vice-Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin raised a red flag with the navy chief about how the structure poses serious security concerns. It was in close proximity to defence installations, he said.
The next one month saw the proverbial tumbling of skeletons out of the closet. It was soon branded as the ‘Tower of Shame’. The overarching narrative was about how a building meant for Kargil war heroes and widows was usurped by politicians, bureaucrats and defence personnel. The complexities, however, were far greater and the illegalities much brazen than the mainly emotive pitch that played out on the TV screens and in the collective consciousness.
It was about how a building meant to be six-storey high morphed into a 31-storey tower. It was about how several of these apartments, estimated to cost anywhere up to Rs 8 crore in 2010, were bought at a tenth of the price by defence personnel and relatives of bureaucrats and politicians. It was a story of quid pro quo where everyone from then Congress Chief minister Ashok Chavan, municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak, collectors, the principal secretary of Urban Development Department (a plum portfolio held by the CM himself) and several others were found to have bent or broken rules to allot land and give building permissions in return of a flat or two.
It cast aspersions on the role of three former Chief Ministers including the late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Shivajirao Nilangekar-Patil. On the list of members were teachers, driver, farmers and students all proxy owners for those in the corridors of power. It was about the tussle over how precious land, that the Defence ministry claimed was theirs, was sanctioned to the Adarsh Society at a nominal rate by the state government.
Above all, there was the glaring violation of environment norms that led the then minister for environment Jairam Ramesh to call for its demolition in January 2011. Then there were also several counter-narratives. Of how those denied a membership to the Adarsh society were the ones crying hoarse. Documents soon emerged which showed that the original complainant Bhasin was denied permission to construct Adarsh II barely 500 m from the original tower. What followed were more revelations by dogged RTI activists, inquiries by the CBI and a judicial commission and a series of petitions clubbed into one by the High court. Many of the accused were exonerated while a few heads rolled.
On Friday, the Bombay High Court gave its ruling calling for the demolition of the tower, that has remained an unoccupied ghost structure since the controversy first erupted. However, this may not be even the penultimate chapter of the complex web of intrigue. The society has been given 12 weeks to appeal in the Supreme court. The story of Adarsh is far from over as several of those involved are yet to have any kind of criminal proceedings initiated against them, a fact duly noted by the High court while passing the order.