Adarsh Society: High rise of mystery and suspicion

By Quaid Najmi, IANS
Sunday, January 16, 2011

MUMBAI - The axe has finally fallen on the controversial Adarsh Society in Mumbai with the ministry of environment and forests Sunday ordering the demolition of the 31-storeyed building.

The demolition order of the high-rise, which has set off a storm of controversy with the alleged involvement of the top political and bureaucratic echelons, is a victory activists, lawyers and socially conscious individuals who helped expose the massive scam.

The union environment ministry in its order said the unauthorised 31-storey structure built at Block 6, Backbay Reclamation Area in Mumbai’s upscale Colaba area should be removed in its entirety within three months and the area be restored to its original condition.

It is a mystery how and why the society’s file moved at jet-speed along the corridors of power while housing schemes for the poor and middle-classes flounder and take years to materialise in this space-starved metropolis.

The Adarsh deceit is a public perception that a plot originally meant to house the families of Kargil heroes was blatantly usurped by the big and powerful.

Nepotism and favouritism did not lag behind as the names of close relatives or associates of persons in high places also tumbled out.

In a belated damage-control exercise, the state authorities had revoked the occupation certificate granted to the society and cut off power and water connections three months ago.

But the people remained sceptical while the society moved the court challenging the government moves.

Although former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan bore the brunt of the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam and quit in December, more names were linked to it.

Three of his predecessors - Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vilasrao Deshmukh (both Congressc leaders and now senior union ministers) and Narayan Rane (former a chief minister of the then Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government and now a state Congress minister) speeded up the proposals to allot the prime plot for the building.

Besides, it was another ex-chief minister Shivarao Patil-Nilangekar who, as the then state revenue minister in the Shinde ministry, granted the land allotment July 09, 2004.

The sequence of events as the file sped along the power corridors is an eye-opener.

Sep 21, 1999: The Adarsh CHS seeks land allotment at Colaba to construct a building for retired defence personnel - no mention of Kargil heroes. Rane notes that the request be considered.

Feb 7, 2000: A similar proposal comes to the next chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, who asks to call for proposal and “put up immediately.

March 29, 2000: Mumbai collector seeks NOC from the general officer commanding (GOC), of Maharashtra & Gujarat area, for land hand over.

March 30, 2000: The defence estate Officer writes to the local defence authorities that the Colaba land (Backbay Reclamation Scheme-VI), belonged to the state government and is outside the defence boundary.

May 22, 2000: Mumbai collector informs government that though the land belongs to the state revenue department, it was occupied by defence authorities. He adds that the defence department had given NOC, but cautioned that the land was reserved for a road.

June 2, 2000: Adarsh CHS writese to the then state revenue minister Ashok Chavan over land allotment for the proposed building. It expresses willingness to accommodate civilians as Society members.

It also submitted a list of 31 defence members, expressed readiness to leave around 10-15 feet for the road widening if required, and that there was no issue of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms cropping up in the development.

Adarsh CHS seeks Chavan’s help to accommodate and reward Kargil heroes who bravely fought to protect the motherland.

Chavan responds the same day (June 2, 2000) and directs the concerned secretary to consider and “put up on priority.

April 10, 2002: Almost two years later, the state urban development ministry headed by Deshmukh reduces the width of the proposed road from the proposed 60 meters to 18 meters. This facilitates an increase of about 3,800 sq.ft of land available to Adarsh.

Later, the then revenue secretary, D.K. Sankaran, who went on to become the chief secretary, noted that there should be no objection to issuing a letter of intent to the society subject to two conditions - the varification of eligibility criteria of all members and the promoters getting CRZ clearance.

Incidentally, the name of Sankaran’s son Sanjoy figures on the list of the society members.

Jan 16, 2003: A day before he was replaced by Shinde, outgoing chief minister Deshmukh clears the Adarsh CHS file.

Jan. 18, 2003: Only two days later, the society secures the Letter of Intent.

July 9, 2004: With Shinde as the CM and Nilangekar as revenue minister, the state government issues a formal letter allotting the land to Adarsh CHS.

Aug 24, 2004: Government grants Adarsh CHS’ request to increase the number of members from 20 to 51.

Sep 20, 2004: Adarsh seeks a further increase in the number of members to 103; the state government vested this power with the Mumbai collector.

Finally, by 2010, the society membership has increased to 103.

Sep 23, 2005: Adarsh CHS securs permission from the Shiv Sena-ruled BMC to start the construction.

Oct 27, 2010: Controversy erupts over CRZ clearance and height of the building. Adarsh claims it received clearance form union ministry of environment and the high rise committee.

The Society also released the list of 103 member-allottees, which included big names from politics, bureaucracy and defence.

Oct 29, 2010: Officially, the government pegs the total allottees in the 31-storey Adarsh building at 102, including 37 defence personnel - three related to Kargil war - and the rest civilians.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had appointed a two-member committee headed by union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony to probe the issue late October, while Chavan was finally asked to quit early November.

With the environment ministry’s demolition order clear, it remains to be seen what stand would the Maharashtra government take on the issue.

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