The Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis-led Urban Development Department, helped a private builder to ‘illegally acquire’ 24 acres of notified land at Kharghar, in Navi Mumbai, in the name of compensating a group of families displaced by the Koyna power project, the opposition Congress party alleged, on July 2, 2018. Congress media in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala, party leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam, spoke about the ‘huge land scam’ at a press conference. They said the ‘scam’ could not have taken place, without the ‘blessings’ of Fadnavis, who heads the Urban Development Department (UDD) and demanded a judicial probe.
Nirupam said, “24 acres of notified land in Ranjanpada in Kharghar, worth Rs 1,767 crores, was handed over to a private builder, Manish Bhatija of Paradise Builders, for just Rs 3.60 crores. Such a huge scam could not have taken place without collusion between the revenue department and the CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation).” CIDCO is a town planning and development agency, which comes under the Urban Development Ministry led by Fadnavis. “The builder is a business partner of BJP MLC Prasad Lad, who is a blue-eyed boy of the chief minister,” claimed Nirupam.
Giving the time-line of the alleged scam, Surjewala said, “The collector of Raigad, without having any authority to do so, allotted 24 acres of land notified for Central Park (located in Kharghar) to eight Koyna project oustee families, on February 26, 2018. Showing astonishing speed, a survey of the land was conducted on May 14, 2018 and mutation of the land was done the same day. The same day, the Paradise Builders took powers of attorney (POAs) from all the eight beneficiaries and bought the land for just Rs 15 lakh per acre.”
Terming it a ‘sweetheart deal’, Surjewala held Fadnavis responsible for the controversial transaction and posed six questions and sought their answers from the CM. Surjewala said, “What is the special relationship between CIDCO/UD ministry and Paradise Builders? Do builder Manish and his business partner enjoy special blessings of Fadnavis-ji, who enabled them to secure a sweetheart deal for merely Rs 3.60 crores? Who identified these eight oustees and the prime land and how did the builder enter into agreements for its sale? Why did CIDCO not object to the allotment without denotification? Isn’t the entire episode a clear-cut case of violation of law and misuse of public authority, inviting sections of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act?”
Chavan said such a deal cannot be concluded, without the blessings and knowledge of the highest authorities like the chief minister. The former chief minister demanded a judicial inquiry by two sitting judges of the Bombay High Court, into the alleged scam. “We hope ‘clean chit chief minister’ will do something this time, to meet our demands. Otherwise, we will knock at the court’s doors and also raise the issue in the upcoming monsoon session of the state legislature,” Nirupam said. The Koyna hydroelectric project, one of the largest such ventures in India, was completed in phases in Satara district. The last phase was completed in 1981. Oustees of the project are scattered across the Maharashtra and are receiving compensation, in the form of land.
Hitting back at the Congress over its allegations against Fadnavis, the BJP said the opposition party had touched a new low. Speaking to reporters, state BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, attributed the ‘childish’ allegations by the Congress to the opposition party’s desperation that there has been no scam during the tenure of Fadnavis. Bhandari sought to clarify that the files relating to the subject, are not handled at the chief minister’s level. He said land parcels in question were allotted to the project affected people (PAP) in line with ‘norms’.
Bhandari claimed the land parcels allotted to the PAPs concerned was not with the CIDCO, but the state government. “The Congress pretended as if some big land scam has taken place. An attempt was made to drag the chief minister’s name, unnecessarily, in connection with files of subjects not handled at the chief minister’s level. The Congress has not been able to find any instance of corruption, leading the desperate party to level such allegations,” Bhandari said. Seeking to turn the tables on the opposition party, Bhandari alleged that during the Congress-NCP dispensation, there were at least 200 cases in which the government allotted land to PAPs, who later sold it to developers.