The manner in which the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society's project on Mumbai's coast came into being, points to a deep-rooted rot in the system.
It is hard to imagine that a scam which surfaced seven years ago would rebound to rock the Maharashtra government leading to the resignation of the Chief Minister. It was in August 2003 that journalist Samar Halarnkar broke in the Indian Express the story of the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society. He wrote about connections among a motley group: “What might the chief of naval staff, a Shiv Sena MLC, a promoter under CBI investigation, IAS officers, a local army commander and ‘Kargil Heroes' have in common?”
At that time, no answers on the allotment of land were forthcoming from Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde. His office claimed that it must have been done by his predecessor, Vilasrao Deshmukh. No Chief Minister came under a cloud then. News reports even indicated later that Adarsh was not a society for defence personnel, and that its promoter, R.C. Thakur, then a junior officer with the defence estates agency, was under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over a land deal.
In September 1999, when Narayan Rane was the Chief Minister (he was then with the Shiv Sena), the Society made its pitch for land on the foreshore area of Colaba. The proposal was revived when Mr. Deshmukh was the Chief Minister, in February 2000. After this, the District Collector asked the General Officer Commanding (GOC), Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, if the land in question was defence land.
Mr. Chavan, while clarifying this to the media, said the GOC had replied on April 5, 2000 that the land was outside the defence area. The society got a formal letter of intent on January 18, 2003, and the land was finally allotted to Adarsh — it had only 20 members then — by a letter of July 9, 2004 when Shivajirao Nilangekar Patil was the Revenue Minister and Mr. Shinde who replaced Vilasrao Deshmukh, was Chief Minister.
Mr. Chavan has denied he had ever met the promoters of Adarsh or had anything to do with civilians being accommodated in the Society. But a letter obtained by the National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (NAPM) under the Right to Information Act disproves the claim. That letter, dated June 2, 2000, signed by the chief promoter and addressed to Mr. Chavan, then the Revenue Minister, stated: “Further to our letter dated 3.1.2000 and personal meeting in your chamber with office bearers of our society on 2.6.2000, we wish to submit the following for your consideration: That we are agreeable to accommodate civilian members (members from outside the defence services) in our society to the extent of 40 per cent …”
This letter mentioned the Society as one meant for Kargil heroes. It made a plea to Mr. Chavan for the allotment of land: “As already submitted, we need your kind help to accommodate and reward our heroes of Kargil operation who bravely fought at Kargil to protect our mother land. We have many officers in the Society who participated in the said operation ‘Vijay'.”
However, of the total of 103 flats, 37 are for defence personnel and only three of them have any connection with the Kargil operation.
Well before all this, on August 19, 1999, Suresh Joshi, Principal Secretary to the State Urban Development Department, sent a letter to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) enclosing a copy of the Society's letter dated August 2, 1999, along with a location plan received from the chief promoter of the Adarsh Society. In that letter the Society made a request “to permit development of the foreshore land admeasuring 10,000 sq. metres for residential purposes.”
Mr. Joshi wrote that from the plan submitted, the land was situated on the seaward side of existing residential development. He quoted the chief promoter who had mentioned that the MoEF had cleared [for development] a similar site situated about 500 metres south of the land in question. He advocated the land allotment by saying: “The members of the society are the officers from defence services who have dedicated their lives in the service of Motherland and deserve all special consideration and several members of the society are even today fighting at Kargil and surrounding areas.”
From this it is evident that when the proposal was first submitted in 1999, the Society was mentioned as one meant for Army officials or people fighting the Kargil operation and their families. This was the pretext for giving Adarsh so many concessions. A letter written by P.V. Deshmukh, deputy secretary, Urban Development Department was crucial; he owns a flat in Adarsh. This letter to the Chief Engineer of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, dated March 15, 2003, stated the modification made to the Development Plan of the Mumbai Backbay Reclamation area under Section 37(2) of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966 as regards the change in width of the Prakash Pethe Marg: it was modified to 18.440 m from 60.97 m by a notification dated April 10, 2002. The area so deleted was included partly in the residential zone, a parade ground, a helipad and a bus depot of BEST, or the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking. Adarsh Society also got additional floor space index (FSI) from the adjoining bus depot in 2005.
The letter said the matter was referred to the MoEF since it fell within CRZ 2 area that is subject to MoEF conditions. The government asked the MoEF for permission on January 4, 2003, and the letter claimed that the MoEF had communicated its ‘no objection' to allow residential development since the area fell in CRZ 2. (The MoEF denied this recently.)
As recently as on October 29, 2010, the State Urban Development Department finally replied to a query from the State Environment Department to say that the Society had violated Coastal Regulation Zone rules.
The Society said it had MoEF approval as per a letter of March 11, 2003 and that the building plans were approved by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which also granted it an occupation certificate on September 16, 2010 — which now stands revoked. The height of the building, 103.4 m., was approved by the High Rise Committee headed by a retired Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, the society said. (Such approval is required for structures beyond 22 floors based on the availability of FSI.) In 2007, the Municipal Corporation approved the High Rise Committee's decision allowing Adarsh to build up to 97.6 m. The maximum height permissible is 30 m. Last year the building was permitted to go even higher, and the proposal was cleared by the MMRDA.
Decisions were made and even reservations were changed to suit the Adarsh project. For instance, the land use category of the plot was changed from ‘transit camp' and ‘parade ground' to ‘residential zone.' In the trail of the scam it is evident that any bureaucrat or politician who had anything to do with clearance being granted to the project benefited from it: they got flats worth Rs. 2 crore to Rs. 8 crore in a prime location on Mumbai's coast. Former Shiv Sena MLC Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, who is now with the Congress, owns three flats here, one in his name and two in his sons' names. There are strenuous denials from politicians and the former Chief Ministers, Mr. Rane, Mr. Deshmukh and Mr. Shinde, who had allegedly recommended names for membership in Adarsh or cleared related files.
Mr. Chavan said the letter of intent or the allotment of land was not approved by him. By offering to quit, he is seen to have owned up moral responsibility for his relatives owning at least three flats in Adarsh. There is also a question mark over a meeting he had with Adarsh Society members. Mr. Chavan maintains that he did everything by the rule book and as per a government resolution of the Revenue Department. This is government land as per records, there was no reservation, specially not for defence personnel or their kin, and he has all the papers to clear him.
Clearly, the Adarsh scam involves enough manipulation to warrant a thorough probe — which, hopefully, is under way. But it is not the only scam. The scam seems to be the last straw for the Maharashtra government. But can the rot be removed merely by axing the Chief Minister?