Ajit awarded land at throwaway prices; Supriya Sule, husband had a share in monthly rent

The former IPS officer and lawyer, Yogesh Pratap Singh, has charged Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and his family with corruption in the controversial Lavasa Housing Project.

Talking to journalists on Thursday, Mr. Singh alleged that the former Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ajit Pawar, who was then Irrigation Minister, and Chairman of the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation, had misused his official powers, awarding 348 acres (141 hectares) of land at throwaway prices to the Lake City Corporation (which was renamed Lavasa Corporation.)

The land was awarded at a paltry monthly rent of Rs. 23,000, of which share of 20.81 per cent was held by Mr. Sharad Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, and her husband Sadanand Sule, Mr. Singh said. “It defies imagination as to how prime land could be awarded on a one-to-one basis through an internal reference, without any public auction, in flagrant disregard of Supreme Court norms.”

The Sules’ shares were sold in 2006. In June 2008, Axis Bank valued their shares at Rs. 10,000 crore. But, in a 2009 election affidavit, Ms. Sule put the value of her property, including those bought earlier, at a mere Rs. 15 crore. “This is a massive money-laundering exercise. It seems impossible to believe that an erstwhile shareholder of Lavasa would be having so little total wealth. It needs investigation,” Mr. Singh said.

He alleged that Narayan Rane, then Revenue Minister, did not act despite the Department having objected to Mr. Ajit Pawar allotting land to a private company without its permission. Mr. Rane suppressed the objections and punished whistle-blower Ramesh Kumar, then Principal Secretary (Revenue), dropping his name from the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, though he was duly selected by a committee headed by the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court.

Mr. Singh said Mr. Sharad Pawar met Mr. Ajit Pawar and other officials at ‘Ekaant’ Guesthouse in Lavasa on July 14, 2007. At the meeting, it was decided to grant many more concessions to the Lavasa project like reduction in the no-development zone and increasing service industries. Hitting out at India Against Corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, he said Mr. Kejriwal chose to expose “a very minor irrigation case that targeted Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari instead of exposing the Lavasa affair and the role of the Pawar family in it.” While Mr. Kejriwal galvanised people through his anti-corruption campaign, he said, he had gone off track by choosing not to expose the Lavasa scam. Mr. Singh said he would soon lodge a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau against the Pawars and Ms. Sule.

The NCP has, however, denied the charges. Senior leader Nawab Malik said Mr. Singh had “no right to hold a media trial” as he was already associated with a petition about the project pending in the High Court.

Refuting the charge that 348 acres was given to Lavasa at throwaway prices, he said the land had not been sold but leased out for 30 years. “The land belongs to the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation, which leased 141 hectares to Lavasa, of which 128 hectares is submerged and is used for storing water.”

The land was valued at the then prevailing rates as per Maharashtra ready-reckoner and was awarded through due procedure. It was well within the Corporation’s powers to lease its land for tourism, so the Maharashtra Land Revenue (Disposal of Government Land) Rules, 1971, were not applicable.

Mr. Pawar did nothing wrong by taking the initiative to develop a hill city project in the State as per the stipulated norms. “Being a lawyer, he [Mr. Singh] should have gone to court instead of hankering after cheap publicity,” Mr. Malik said. Mr. Pawar’s meeting at the Lavasa guesthouse was not at all secret as its minutes were prepared.

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