A Defence Ministry probe has ''prima facie'' found a ''criminal conspiracy'' in the controversial Adarsh Housing Society project in Mumbai, where several former service chiefs, politicians and bureaucrats were allegedly given flats at throwaway prices.
The probe, ordered by Defence Minister A K Antony this week, has also "not not ruled out" collusion of some officers with the high rise promoters, sources said here today.
"In fact, prima facie there appears to be a criminal conspiracy (in the Adarsh Society controversy). But in all these things, we are not ruling out collusion of some (military) officers at the ground level (in letting the construction come up)," the sources said here.
The Defence Ministry, they said, is determined that all those guilty of wrongdoing in the episode are not spared and a decision on the matter will be taken within 10 days before Parliament's winter session begins on November nine.
Defence Ministry sources said there were some loose ends in the case such as the ownership of the land, apart from seeking and obtaining no-objection for construction of the high rise, though the Army had been in "de facto" possession of the prime 6,490-sq mt plot of land in upscale Colaba for over 60 years before the 31-storey Adarsh Society highrise came up there in 2003.
The probe is also convinced that the building posed a major security concern, as spelt out by Western Naval Commander Vice Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin in his July 2010 letter seeking action against the building, the promoters and the officers involved in overlooking the construction itself since 2003.
"On the question of security implications of the high rise building, certainly there is a problem over there...an issue of security in this building because it overlooks many military installations over there," the sources added.
The probe was ordered by the Defence Minister this week and the Ministry had sought reports on the controversy and its past background from the Army, Navy and the Defence Estates.
While the Army and the Defence Estates Directorate submitted their reports, the Navy was yet to do so, sources said.
Former army chiefs Generals N C Vij and Deepak Kapoor, ex-Navy chief Admiral Madhavendra Singh, former Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Shantanu Chowdhary, former Union Minister and Shiv Sena MP Suresh Prabhu are among those who have been alloted flats in the building that came up with a promise to provide residential apartments to widows and dependents of 1999 Kargil war martyrs.
The controversy, which has been brewing since the construction began on the land in 2003, resurfaced this week after the Navy took exception to Maharashtra government according permission for Occupation Certificate to the building that has come up in an area under the control of the Navy's base in Colaba.
The Navy had once again flagged the security concerns posed by the 100-metre tall building in the aftermath of the 2008 November terror attack on the city through the sea route, Navy sources said here.
In his letter to the Defence Ministry and the Army, Vice Admiral Bhasin had said that despite repeated intimations to various concerned departments of Maharashtra government to not issue a 'No Objection Certificate' or an 'Occupation Certificate (OC)', it came to notice that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) had issued an OC to Adarsh Society building.
The building next to a planned helipad and military installations is also believed to have violated the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) II limit of a height of 30 metres.
On the history of the land itself, the Defence Ministry probe found that the Maharashtra government had in the late 1940s sought 40 acres of land from the Santa Cruz firing range for its Western Expressway.
But the military had laid the condition that the state government should give it land of an equivalent size or the market value of the land in Colaba.
However, this condition was not fully complied with by the state administration, the sources said.
In 1964, the then Bombay Collector had said that the Colaba land could not be given to the Army. But since the 1940s, the Army had had some constructions on the land, where Adarsh Housing Society has now come up.
In 1996, the Army's Director General of Infantry had inaugurated an Ecological Park in the area and a boundary wall was erected by the Military Engineering Service around that land.
Accordingly, the Army used the land for carrying out its training and exercises of its troops. "Effectively, what it means is that the land was in de facto possession of the Army for long," the Defence Ministry sources said, but added that the ownership, whether of military or civil administration, had not come out clearly yet under its probe.
In 2003, the Defence Ministry "had heard" about some civilian construction coming up on the said land and at that time, the Defence Estates Director General wrote to the the Collector that "the Army's interests over the land is superior to any other constituent's".
Defence Ministry sources said the question of whether the Society sought or obtained any no-objection certificate from the military for the high rise construction had also not come out clearly under its probe yet.
"Now, the Ministry is trying to ascertain the facts and fill those gaps. However, a letter written by the Society mentions that the military had agreed to the construction of a girls hostel on the land for the wards of its officers serving offsite," the sources said.
Asked if the Defence Ministry or the Naval establishment in Mumbai would have security concerns with other highrises in the Colaba area, the sources said, "Though it is true that similar buildings existed in the locality, we have to take these issues seriously."
Asked if some serving officers too have been allotted flats in Adarsh Society and if they had declared the property in their annual submissions, the sources said officers, who have not made the declaration, would face severe action under the existing rules.