Maharashtra's land scandals

There are so many rules and regulations governing real estate as well as agriculture/forest land in the state that unless the rules are bent, with the connivance of officials and political bosses, one cannot easily get hold of those gold mines, and there begins corruption, nepotism and all sorts of evils.

In case of Adarsh Housing Society, the plot on which the building is located is in Colaba in South Mumbai, where in the first place you won't get any land, and if you do, then the prices will be astronomical. The defence first located the plot and then approached the state politicians for their help way back in 2000. The incumbent chief minister Ashok Chavan was then the revenue minister, and as per the government records, the land belonged to the government, although it was given to the Army.

Although Chavan now denies it, the politician in him must have noticed the windfall the building in Colaba could bring, and he reportedly insisted that the Society, initially meant for defence officials, should allow 40 per cent membership to civilians. That was agreed, and the file moved quickly.

At current market price, the flat in Adarsh will cost somewhere between Rs 7 to 8 crore, but the members of the Society were asked to invest up to Rs 85 lakh for a 2 BHK apartment. The appreciation would be more than 10 fold, that is, 1000 per cent. Can any business or job fetch this kind of returns in so short a time?

No wonder, four former state CMs - Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde, Narayan Rane and Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar - who had given various clearances to the controversial project at some point of time, were benefited directly or indirectly through allotments to their associates or nominees. Three relatives of Ashok Chavan were alloted flats in the Society, which he confirmed publicly.

Three close associates of Deshmukh, who is the union heavy industries minister and was the chief minister twice from 1999 to 2003 and from 2004 to 2008, are on the list of 104 members of the Society. Union power minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who was the chief minister from 2003 to November 2004 and signed the final clearance, is said to own a 3-BHK flat in the name of Major N W Khankhoje.

Then there are names of Rupali Rao Rane, and Girish Pravinchandra Mehta, close associates of state revenue minister Rane. The ambitious politician, who is already facing charges of land grab in Mahabaleshwar, was the chief minister of the state for nine months in 1999, and had given initial permission to the project.

Former revenue minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar's associates Arun Davle and Sampat Khidse are also allotees.  Other top politicians, including senior NCP leaders Ajit Pawar, who is nephew of  NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Jayant Patil and Anil Deshmukh, are now being implicated in the scandal.

Land scams began in Maharashtra during the chief ministership of Sharad Pawar. He would dereserve prime plots for certain beneficiaries, and the Opposition was quick to link the beneficiary to him. One major scandal during his time was the dereservation of Vasai-Virar green belt into a residential zone, by which thousands of acres of land was freed for housing.

Pawar's name was so much mired in land scams and related controversies that when he became the defence minister in 1991, the joke that was doing the rounds in Maharashtra was that he would make a deal with Pakistan on that huge piece of real estate - Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, he had made certain inquiries during his tenure in defence about huge chunks of land that is lying with the Army cantonments. He reportedly wanted to unlock cantonments but faced stiff opposition from within.

Pawar was followed by others, who saw huge money in real estate. Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi, who was the chief minister from 1995-1999, actually lost his job because of adverse court observations about how he favoured his son-in-law, a builder, to construct a township in Pune .

The politician-builder nexus in Maharashtra has become a catch phrase now. The Leader of the Opposition Eknath Khadse recently alleged that the Congress-NCP government was involved in so many land and building rackets that their total worth would be close to Rs 65,000 crore.

Take the example of Lavasa hill city near Pune. Revenue minister Rane said all land sale transactions would be regularised after levying a fine. Social worker Anna Hazare has now threatened to launch a hunger strike against the regularisation.

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