The scathing order of the Bombay High Court directing demolition of the 31-storeyed epitome of corruption in plush South Mumbai, Adarsh building, has sent a wave of happiness in BJP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. But a careful study of the case over the past few years shows how the BJP lost at least three golden opportunities in the past two years to bring the culprits to book, and to pull the structure down.
No stay on demolition order
The first golden opportunity for the BJP was in the form of implementation of the demolition order issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests under then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in the year 2011. During the hearing on the bunch of petitions, the Bombay High Court had never put a stay on the January 2011 demolition order. During the initial hearing, then Advocate General Darius Khambatta had offered to maintain status quo till the division bench headed by Justice Ranjana Desai heard the matter completely. After that, several legal representatives have amply made it clear since 2012 that there was no stay on the demolition order, neither was there any commitment made by the government not to go ahead with demolition.
“The most stringent action was taken by the UPA government itself in 2011 when it passed the demolition order under the stewardship of Jairam Ramesh. It is not clear what stopped the BJP from demolishing the structure after it came to power. All the necessary orders for it were already issued,” said a lawyer closely associated with the case. After the BJP came to power at the Centre and in the state, it showed no effort in speeding up the prosecution.
The first golden opportunity for the BJP was in the form of implementation of the demolition order issued by the Environment Ministry under Jairam Ramesh in the year 2011.
Dragging feet on prosecution of Ashok Chavan
It was only recently that the CBI approached the Maharashtra Governor two months ago, successfully seeking permission to prosecute Ashok Chavan. But the record of the past two years has been disappointing. Since 2014, the government hardly took any effort to bring him to the book. Not just that, the CBI also actively supported Ashok Chavan in 2014 when he had sought deletion of his name from the Adarsh charge sheet.
Ashok Chavan, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra and prominent Congress leader, was the biggest name in the scam. He had to forgo his chair of Chief Minister after the scam came to light in the year 2010. Moreover, the CBI had also named him in the FIR registered against 13 persons in the year 2011, and had charge sheeted him.
But, in the year 2013, then Maharashtra Governor had refused permission to CBI to prosecute Ashok Chavan. Thereafter, the CBI moved the trial court seeking permission to delete Chavan’s name. The trial court denied to do so, prompting the CBI to move the Bombay High Court. A few months after the matter came up for hearing, the BJP won the parliamentary elections. The court had then given CBI more time to clarify its stand on the matter. But the agency stuck to its ground and sought the deletion of Ashok Chavan’s name.
At the time, the Bombay High Court ruled against the CBI. “The Governor has denied permission to prosecute him for conspiracy. But the agency can prosecute him under the Prevention of Corruption Act,” Justice M.L. Tahaliyani had ruled then.
Thereafter, in December 2014, Ashok Chavan filed an application before the Bombay High Court seeking recall of the court’s order denying permission to CBI to remove his name from Adarsh charge sheet. The CBI, despite being given time by the court to respond, did not oppose Chavan’s application. It maintained that it wanted to remove his name from the charge sheet. But despite CBI’s support, the Bombay High Court went ahead and rejected that application of Ashok Chavan too.
It was only two months ago that the agency again approached the Maharashtra Governor seeking permission to prosecute Chavan. The permission was granted to it.
The Army never answered
Last year, during one of the hearings of the Adarsh matter, the Bombay High Court went out of its way to ask the Army if it was interested in occupying the Adarsh building. The Army never filed a reply on the matter before the court. “If it would have filed a reply then, maybe the case would have taken an altogether different turn,” a lawyer associated with the case said.
Adarsh, a story of high-profile scam
The scam caught public attention since the time it broke in 2010. High level politicians, bureaucrats, serving Army officials had allegedly connived to occupy a prime plot in plush South Mumbai to build flats for themselves. “Everyone who dealt with the file was gifted a flat,” the Bombay High Court had said in one of its scathing orders. Several benaami transactions were probed, many high profile arrests were made. The scam caused huge embarrassment to Congress, as several leading Congress leaders’ names came up at the time.
The state government appointed a two-member Adarsh commission to probe into the ownership of the land. After two years of hearings, the Commission concluded that the land belonged to the state government, though it was in possession of the Army.
Military authorities had informed the Collector that the Adarsh land fell “outside the Defence boundary” and instructed him to take “necessary action as deemed fit”.
How it happened
On 7 February 2000, Adarsh Society submitted a proposal to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, for the allotment of 3,854 square metres of land in Block VI Back Bay Reclamation for construction of residential building. It said that it wanted to build houses for Kargil war heroes and their families. On 19 February 2000, the Chief Minister marked the Society’s proposal to Principal Secretary (Revenue), Revenue and Forest Department (RFD), Government of Maharashtra, with instructions to call for the proposal and put it up. On 6 March 2000, the revenue department forwarded the Society’s proposal to the Collector, Mumbai City for a self-explanatory report.
On 27 March 2000, a site inspection by Collector indicated that the land was enclosed by a boundary wall constructed by the “Military Department”. On 29 March 2000, the Collector approached the Headquarter of Maharashtra and Gujarat for an NOC. On 5 April 2000, the military authorities informed the Collector that the land fell “outside the Defence boundary”. It was further requested that “necessary action at your end may be taken as deemed fit for the welfare of Service personnel/ex-Servicemen/their widows”.
According to civic plans, the land was reserved for road widening. The reservation of the plot was changed and conditions were added for membership. On 2 June 2000, Adarsh Society accepted in writing to accommodate 40% civilians as discussed in a meeting on the same day with Ashok Chavan, Revenue Minister. The Society requested his help to reward and accommodate the Kargil heroes. On 10 April 2002, the Urban Development Department (UDD) approved modifications by deletion of 60.97 metres wide road leading to South Colaba Harbour link and changing the width of Captain Prakash Pethe Marg from 60.97 metres to 18.40 metres.
On 18 January 2003, the Revenue and Forest Department issued a “Letter of Intent” to the Society regarding allotment of the plot of land. On 17 March 2003, the Society wrote to Sunil Tatkare, then Minister of State for Urban Development, to allot additional FSI of the adjoining plot used by Brihan-Mumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST) as approach road, as it was finding it difficult to accommodate all the 71 members already approved by the government.
On 10 May 2003, Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, MLC and a member of the Society approached Shivajirao Nilangekar, Revenue Minister, Government of Maharashtra, for exemption of the income level beyond Rs 12,500 in the case of ex-service men as a “good gesture to our brave soldiers”.
Thereafter, on 5 August 2005, Government of Maharashtra allowed the additional FSI of the adjoining land used by BEST to the Society. The issue of environmental clearances too raised a storm after a letter by the Environment Ministry explaining who to seek permission from, was interpreted as a No Objection Certificate by P.V. Deshmukh, Deputy Secretary of Urban Development Department. He is an accused in the scam. In October 2009, another top IAS officer, Jairaj Phatak, who was then the Commissioner of MCGM, accepted the proposal of the Society to regularise the 28th floor without clearance from the High Rise Committee. All the skeletons tumbled out of the closet after the scam was reported in the media in 2010.