Mining prime land for all its worth

Housing scam: Three distant relatives of Ashok Chavan were given flats in the Society

The plot was lying vacant for years and was technically in possession of the Army. Somebody noticed this potential goldmine a decade ago and floated the idea of constructing a residential complex, and got several well-connected and influential persons on board.

The main driving force behind the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society (CHS), as the residential society was named, was Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, who has changed parties frequently. He was in the Congress earlier, but joined the Shiv Sena when the saffron party came to power, then again switched sides after the Congress came back to power.

He was ably aided by a junior military officer, R C Thakur, who reportedly coordinated the takeover of the plot and the construction of the building. The Society was meant for serving and retired defence forces officers and a few civilians.

In the year 2000, when incumbent Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was the state revenue minister, Gidwani and other promoters of the Society approached him for allotment of the plot to the Adarsh CHS, as the land belonged to the state government.

It is alleged that Chavan insisted on increasing the quota for civilians to 40 per cent of the total number of flats, and the promoters of the Society reportedly agreed to it. Chavan had in his own handwriting marked on the proposal to be processed “on priority.”

The Society finally got the land in question in 2004, when Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was the chief minister, and Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar was the revenue minister. The number of members of the Society grew and stood at 104.

After getting allotment of the land from the state government, the Society paid Rs 16 crore to the department concerned to purchase the plot, and also paid Rs 8 crore to the Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority (MMRDA) as development charges.

The construction began afterwards and a high-rise of 31 floors now stands in that place. The cost of construction was reportedly Rs 30 crore and each floor has four apartments, of which three are 2BHK and one is a 3BHK, ranging from 625 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft in area.

The market price for such a flat in this upscale Colaba area will be anywhere between Rs 8 to 10 crore, but the Society members paid Rs 60 lakh
to Rs 80 lakh, depending upon the size of their flat.

The building also falls under the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) norms, under which no building can be constructed beyond 30 metres in height.

The height of Adarsh Tower, however, is 100 metres, and one can actually monitor the activities inside the adjacent defence areas from the upper floors, posing a major security threat to the installations.

The Society was also given additional floor space index (FSI) of an adjacent bus depot of the BrihanMumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking, for construction.

The FSI rules in Mumbai and Maharashtra are so complex and complicated that only the building permission department officials can explain them.

Among those who became members of the Adarsh Society and got flats are two former Army chiefs General (retd) N C Viz and General (retd) Deepak Kapoor, former Navy chief Admiral (retd) Madhavendra Singh and a host of top ex-defence officers. The Society also has three Army officers on its list who had fought the Kargil War.

Civilian beneficiaries
But the crux of the problem are the civilian beneficiaries. For example, Gidwani has got three flats — one for him and two for his sons. Then, relatives of senior state government officials who could have obstructed/ stopped the allotment at various points are on the list.

For instance, the wife of the then Mumbai Collector Pradeep Vyas, who was in office during 2002-2005 and actually processed the membership of the Society, is one of the allottee, while another Mumbai Collector I Z Kundan herself became a member of the Society after ministerial intervention. Both are IAS officers.

The IFS (foreign service) daughter of the then BEST general manager Uttam Khobragade is another beneficiary of the flats. The son of former Mumbai municipal commissioner Jairaj Pathak is one of the members. The list is truly big.

What drove the final nail in the coffin was the revelation that three distant relatives of Ashok Chavan himself — his late mother-in-law, a brother-in-law and wife’s sister — were given flats in the Society.

The son of a close friend of the CM, too, got a flat. Chavan’s defence is classic — neither he nor his family, which he insists comprises only his wife and two children, have got anything in this Society, and if his mother-in-law Bhagwati Sharma had got a flat, then she and two other relatives are separate individuals who approached the Society on their own and got membership.

“I did not abuse  power in any way,” he says.But then, while his mother-in-law’s flat has been surrendered, the two other relatives also resigned their membership of the Society in haste to cover up and have conveyed that they are no longer interested in taking possession of the flats.

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