In an unusual gesture, the Bombay High Court has asked the Ministry of Defence whether it wants to acquire the controversial and illegal Adarsh building. Many politicians, defence officials and top bureaucrats have been named in the Adarsh scam in which rules were allegedly bent to construct the plush high-rise and allot ownership of flats to politicians, babus and defence officials at cheap rates. Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had to resign from his position after the scam was unearthed in 2010.
The Bombay High Court has now directed the MoD to clear its stand on 24 November. If the MoD shows willingness, an “innovative solution” may be chalked out in the Adarsh issue. At present, a demolition order stands intact against the building. It had been passed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2011 after it found the 31-storied building overlooking key defence installations in South Mumbai’s ultra-prime real estate locality of Colaba in violation of coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms. The Adarsh building lies in CRZ II area. The Adarsh Housing Society had thereafter approached the Bombay High Court seeking quashing of the order.
If that order is quashed, then the court’s suggestion will pave way for an “innovative solution” to the problem. The building which has already been constructed at the cost of crores of rupees, might be saved from the axe. At the same time, depending on the arrangements chalked out, members of Adarsh Housing Society might be free to seek some costs for transferring the ownership rights of the high-rise. The MoD might then have to apply for post-construction clearance and CRZ permission to the MoEF.
Sources in Adarsh Housing Society said that the Society had spent around Rs 20 crore alone towards purchase of the land. Above it, the market rate of each flat in the 31-floor structure runs into crores of rupees.
“The MoD anyway faces space crunch in that area. It needs some place to house its officers. What a turn of fate this would be, if the MoD decides to occupy the building!” a defence official said. The building was initially proposed for war widows and defence officials.
At present, the Bombay High Court is hearing a bunch of petitions about the Adarsh building and the petitions have been clubbed together. A special division bench has been constituted to hear the matter on a daily basis so that it is fast-tracked.
During the hearing a few days ago, the division bench of Justices R.V. More and R.G. Ketkar suggested to the MoD to tell the court if it would like to acquire the building. The court said this on the last day of the final arguments in a petition filed by the Adarsh Housing Society challenging the demolition order issued by MoEF.
It then directed all the parties to give written submissions on 24 November about the final arguments. The Adarsh Housing Society argued for the longest period. Represented by senior advocate Navroz Seervai, the Society argued from 15 September to 28 October. It cried bias and claimed that the MoEF had failed to give it a proper hearing.
The Society claimed that it had the necessary CRZ clearance before construction of the building. Stating that the CRZ clearance had been issued in 2003 itself, the Society urged the court not to rely on the affidavits of IAS officer P.V. Deshmukh. Deshmukh had, in an affidavit before the Adarsh judicial commission, stated that the letter signed by him was not CRZ clearance. The Adarsh Housing Society argued that Deshmukh filed two contradictory affidavits before the commission and tried to absolve himself of his involvement in the controversy. Thus, his affidavits should not be relied on. Further, the society claimed that it was not involved in any FSI violations.
In contrast, MoEF, against whose order the Adarsh Housing Society had approached the court, argued for only a single day. The MCZMA (Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority), represented by senior counsel Darius Khambata, argued that the steps taken by the authority against the Society were justified and legally correct.
Meanwhile, the court is slated to conduct crucial proceedings on 24 November when the Adarsh Housing Society is likely to submit a few options, in case the court decides to quash the demolition order. The Society will also seek regularisation of the structure. It might seek cost of land and flats at market rate, if it is asked to surrender the building, sources in the Society said.