The Uddhav Thackeray-led government in Maharashtra Wednesday allotted a 51-hectare government plot, valued at Rs 10 crore, in Marathwada’s Jalna to NCP president Sharad Pawar-chaired Vasantdada Sugar Institute on nominal rates as a “special case.”
In the process, the Thackeray Cabinet, which sanctioned the proposal, overruled objections raised by the state’s Revenue Department and the Finance Department and ignored an opinion submitted by the state’s Advocate General’s office.
The land in question, measuring 51.33 hectares, and situated in Patharwala village in Jalna, was originally acquired by the state’s Agriculture department for a state seed farm. As per an official communication, the state’s official valuers estimated the plot’s market worth at Rs 9.99 crore.
A public trust formed by cooperative sugar barons in 1975, the Pune-based VSI is counted among India’s premier sugar research and educational institutes.
While Pawar is VSI chairman, sitting Maharashtra ministers Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Excise Minister Dilip Walse-Patil, Finance Minister Jayant Patil (Nationalist Congress Party), and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat (Congress) are among the Board of Trustees while two other ministers Rajesh Tope (NCP) and Satej Patil (Congress) are on its governing council.
VSI has sought the land for sugar research and extension of their educational activities.
In an official communication, the Revenue Department, which has now been directed by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to allot the land to VSI, argued that such an allotment on concessional basis was not in keeping with a 1997 ruling of the Supreme Court which contended that land acquired by government for a particular public purposes should be put to use for the said purpose and in cases where this cannot be done, the said land should either be utilised for another public purpose or be returned back to the original owners.
The state’s Finance Department questioned the move to allot the land on concessional basis citing prevalent rules regarding disposal of government land which advocate that the lands should be allotted at market value after inviting bids.
But the Cabinet, while overruling these objections, has made use of a rider incorporated in the same disposal laws. It argued that the government still has the discretion of allotting land directly to eminent charitable and public institutions. In the past, nominal rate was taken as Re 1 per sq me (Rs 10,000 per hectare).
On July 25, 2019, the then Devendra Fadnavis-led regime rolled out a revised policy for allotment of government land. While removing discretion in allotments in most cases, it provided that in the cases of eminent institutions, involved in charitable work, the government can make an exception.
Both the Revenue and the Finance Department have questioned if the research proposed to be carried out by the VSI on the land amounted to “public purpose.” The Cabinet Wednesday voted in the affirmative.
Thackeray, however, has asked the Revenue department to lay down certain conditions while issuing the final allotment letter to the institute. Sources said that the department has been asked to consult the law department on the conditions that could be insisted upon.
A proposal in this regard was first put up for the government’s consideration way back in 2013, when the Congress-NCP government was still in power. After the Fadnavis government took over, there was little movement on the proposal till 2017, when the Agriculture Department finally surrendered the land to Revenue authorities. In December, Thackeray visited VSI where the issue of land allotment was reportedly discussed.
Meanwhile, in another decision, the state government sanctioned a Rs 1800-crore government guarantee to the Maharashtra State Cotton Marketing Federation for procurement of cotton at fair and remunerative prices from cotton growers in the state.
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