Defence Ministry cautious after Adarsh scam
At least 10,000 people in the space-crunched western suburbs of Kandivali-Malad here are fighting to redevelop their homes because they overlook a Central Ordnance Depot (COD) on a 17-acre Army plot. The result of renewed caution by the Defence Ministry in granting clearances, thanks to the Adarsh scam of 2010 in Mumbai.
As local anger grows in an election year, Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh recently flew in from Delhi to meet the affected people. Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam has taken up their cause.
“Many genuine cases have been hampered by Adarsh and Sukhna [scams]. I feel the pain of the people here, but I cannot make any policy statement as the parliamentary session is under way. I will deal with this issue on a priority basis,” the Minister assured the residents.
“We have been neighbouring the defence establishment for more than 40 years. Now, when our buildings are old, the Army refuses to grant us No-Objection Certificates (NOC). There are hundreds of high-rises around this establishment. How are we a security threat?” asks resident Kaushik Vyas (54).
In the wake of the Adarsh Housing Society scam, the Maharashtra government issued a notification, saying an NOC from the defence establishment was mandatory for any construction work in its vicinity.
In May 2011, the Ministry came up with guidelines stating that if the Station Commander of any defence unit felt that construction activity within a 100-metre radius could be a security hazard, he could inform the authorities. It laid down restrictions for construction within a 500-metre radius of the installations.
Due to the tremendous land crunch in the city, many defence installations are closely surrounded by civilian constructions. “Instead of gauging security threat on a case-to-case basis, blanket refusals are being handed out,” complained Shrikant Patwardhan, a resident of Akurli Society.
Moreover, by the Army’s own admission, the COD stores mainly tyres, tubes and other spares.
At least 650 buildings within a 500-metre distance from the COD cannot undertake any redevelopment activity. Each building has approximately four floors, and each floor has three flats of 400 square feet on average. The average size of a family is four or five.
Some residents have taken the matter to court. “There are several issues including the validity as well as interpretation of the guidelines dated May 18, 2011. In view thereof, hearing of these writ petitions is expedited,” the Bombay High Court observed in its order of July, 2013.
“At a meeting held with Mr. Jitendra Singh, defence officials said it is clear that the 2011 guidelines are bad in law. They contradict the Defence Estate Act of 1903. I have been assured that the guidelines will be amended or withdrawn soon,” Mr. Nirupam, who is an elected representative of the region, told The Hindu.