Having remained vacant for three decades, a prime plot of land in suburban Mumbai, allotted by the Maharashtra government to Associated Journals Ltd in 1983 for building a Nehru memorial library and research centre, will now house a 11-storey office building.
According to building permissions granted by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to the company that once published the National Herald, the newspaper launched by Nehru, and Qaumi Awaz, the project is a “commercial building” comprising two levels of basement parking, an office and atrium on the ground floor and eleven floors of offices.
The proposal for a Nehru memorial library is not mentioned in the building permission documents.
The plot of land is located in Bandra, along the Western Express Highway. Measuring 3,478 sq m, it stands on part of a large plot earlier reserved for a hostel for Scheduled Caste students.
According to an August 1983 order, the Maharashtra government allotted the land to M/s Associated Journals (Bombay) Ltd “for publication of daily newspapers and for establishing a Nehru Library-cum-Research Institute” on payment of an occupancy price.
Among the conditions imposed, the order by the additional collector stated, “That the building to be constructed by the grantee shall be exclusively used for the purpose for which it is granted…”
For nearly three decades, the plot remained vacant even as a parcel of the original larger plot was handed over to a housing society floated by Congressman Rajiv Chavan — former Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh is a member of the society.
In the interim, while seeking removal of encroachments and realignment of its boundaries and alterations to a BMC sewage pumping station on a part of the plot, Associated Journals also sought and received extensions to complete construction on the plot.
By early 2012, the Associated Journals Ltd, through its chairman Motilal Vora, initiated steps to seek permissions for construction on the plot allotted to the company. All subsequent communication from the BMC to Associated Journals regarding the construction refers to the project as a “proposed office building”. A commencement certificate was granted in June 2013 for a proposed “commercial building”.
The building is now nearly four storeys high. At the site on Wednesday, a watchman called the upcoming construction a “Congress Bhavan”.
Mumbai-based RTI activist Anil Galgali, who in 2012 wrote to then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and urged the government to take the plot of land back since no construction had begun for nearly 30 years, told The Indian Express Wednesday that the land can still be taken back for non-compliance with the original allotment conditions.
“Not only is there no proposal for a press or Nehru memorial library in the under-construction building, the government land has also not been used in a timely manner. I will write to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, seeking cancellation of the allotment,” Galgali said.
While Associated Journals had previously run foul of the government over lease dues, a letter from the suburban collector in 2010 stated that occupancy price of Rs 98,17,440 had been paid following an order in 2006 and there seemed to be no arrears of lease rent outstanding.