HC pushes for CBI probe into Pune land scam; BJP demands prompt action against guilty politicians, officials
Shukti Sarma 09 February 2011

It is estimated that clearance of large tracts under land ceiling law may have lost state government Rs500 crore

The Bombay High Court has suggested that a probe be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the huge number of allegedly fraudulent clearences given for construction on large tracts of land in Pune over the past three decades.

The suggestion by Judges BH Marlapalle and UD Salvi was made during the hearing of a public interest petition on this issue by Bharatiya Janata Party Maharashtra spokesperson Madhav Bhandari yesterday.

"There are 245 (such) fraud orders which have made this land scam possible. The whole bureaucracy is involved, and the government knows about it. It is high time a step is taken against the corrupt people," Mr Bhandari said today.

The issue involves the grant of no-objection certificates by the government to landholders who own more than 500 square metres. Under the now defunct Urban Land Ceiling Act (repealed in 2007), any construction on an area of above 500 sq m required a clearance from the state government. Such projects were to be regularised only after the landholder agreed to cede 5% of the land to the state government for housing the poor.

However, hundreds of projects were cleared and lakhs of square metres of land that could have been got for housing the poor was used for private projects yielding huge profits. This phenomena was detected by an additional collector in 2005, and some 29 such fraudulent cases were revealed. An inquiry by the CID, subsequently, did not make much headway.

This is when the BJP filed a public interest petition contending that large tracts of land in Pune had been declared as "non-surplus" through fraudulent orders and were exempted from surrendering to the government.

BJP spokesperson Mr Bhandari alleged that former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and the then deputy chief minister RR Patil were instrumental in stopping the CID inquiry into this matter.

"Why was there no investigation?" Mr Bhandari asked, during a telephone conversation with Moneylife. "The government has tried to whitewash the issue. Mr Deshmukh fined an official-whom he knew quite well-but penalising someone is hardly a remedy. That is just regularising the crime."

Labelling this matter as a "mini 2G" scam, the High Court judges remarked that the Pune land affair-estimated at over Rs500 crore-was far worse than the Adarsh society case.

In one of the cases that was investigated in 2005, one of the beneficiaries had to pay a fine of about Rs8 crore. "If the penalty from one accused could get the state exchequer Rs8 crore, the more than 300 files awaiting scrutiny by the state CID can yield a lot of money for the state coffers," the petition said.

"The very fact that the Court has suggested a CBI inquiry explains how concerned the judiciary is about this matter," Mr Bhandari said. "What is required is that the culprits and the ministers who put a stop to the investigation must be hauled up."

Such cases are only worsening the already sullied image of the real estate business. Pankaj Kapoor, managing director, Liases Foras, a realty research firm, said, "We are seeing a high level of irregularities in the real estate sector. The sector has been one area which is quite common in all kinds of scams. Real estate companies are involved even in the 2G scam."

Mr Kapoor stressed that "the government should become more accountable now and come forward to regularise the (real estate) sector as these kind of scams put urbanisation and the real estate market off balance."

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