SC raps Deshmukh,tells Ghai to return land

The Supreme Court upheld a Bombay High Court decision to quash 20 acres of land allotted to filmmaker Subhash Ghai for his institute

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi | Published: April 5, 2012 12:00:33 am

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Bombay High Court decision to quash 20 acres of land allotted to filmmaker Subhash Ghai for his institute,Whistling Woods,and described him as a “blue-eyed boy” who won a largesse of public land,courtesy the then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

A Bench of Justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad ordered Ghai to comply with the High Court directions to return all 20 acres to the state government by 2014 and pay market rent of the property till then. The High Court had given time till 2014 so that the present batch of students can finish their courses.

“Government land was given to a blue-eyed boy for a paltry sum. He (Ghai) got it only because he had access… one cannot be treated as blue-eyed boy for which the chief minister can bend or bypass rules to give away the land of the state,” the Bench said.

Ghai’s lawyer Mukul Rohatgi said over Rs 50 crore has already been invested in the film school and said his client would not mind using the land for a lease.

“It is the only school of its kind. I have run it for 10 years. I am willing to take it on lease. Let it be converted into a 15-year lease,” Rohatgi said.

Declining the suggestion,the court in response asked how Ghai finally got the land when four previous governments before Deshmukh’s had consistently refused the filmmaker. “But he (Deshmukh) took interest,even signed the land agreement in his own handwriting. Every improvement in the school was to be personally informed to him… why?” the bench asked.

The court said Ghai could instead participate in a fresh bidding process for the property,if any. The same Bench is also hearing a petition filed by Deshmukh,now a Union Cabinet Minister,to expunge certain disparaging remarks made by the High Court,accusing him of personal motive to favour Ghai.

The High Court’s order had come on a PIL by Rajendra Sontakke and four other agriculturists of Latur and Osmanabad districts alleging “gross abuse of power” by Deshmukh in allotting the land.

Ghai blames ‘administrative error’
Following the SC order,Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International said nearly 14.5 acres,currently vacant,will be handed back to the government. The remaining 6.5 acres will be given back in 2014 after the present batches of students complete their courses.

”This problem has cropped up due to administrative errors,” Ghai said. “The PIL questioning allotment of land was filed as early as 2003. We were told to wait and a committee was assigned to look into the case,which was also later brushed off. We invested in the project since the government had finalised the plan for Whistling Woods. But they took seven years to come up with a decision. Now,they call it illegal. Land is never the strength of education,education is the strength of a land.”

Ghai said he hasn’t yet thought about the future course of action. “We will wait for the government reaction to the judgment,” he said.

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