Right to Information
How RTI activist exposed Pune Div Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh’s land scam

Activists used Section 4 of RTI Act at IG-Registration’s website to unearth a big land scam involving Pune’s divisional commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh and top notch politician

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra transferred demolition man and honest IAS officer Shrikar Pardeshi, who was until recently the commissioner at Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corp (PCMC). At the same time, Pawar, the junior, (he is nephew of NCP leader Sharad Pawar) declared in public that Pune’s Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh’s 300 acre agricultural land scam, is just a baseless allegation. Ajit Pawar’s claim is based on a few ‘tapped’ phone conversations, which he listened to!

While, much hue and cry should be raised about Ajit Pawar admitting that he heard conversation of `tapped’ calls, Right to Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar researched deeply into Deshmukh’s scam that could just be the proverbial tip of an iceberg.
 

In rural areas, land comes under Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling of Holdings) Act, 1961. This Act has come into force from 2 October 1975. Prior to implementation of this Act, a person could hold lands to the extent of 100 acres or more. The criteria for land to be kept with the land holder is:
* Cultivated land: 18 acres
* Barren land: 36 acres
 

So, under this Act, the landlord can keep minimum 54 acres of land as a family holding. Excess land is taken by the state government, for distribution to the landless poor and ex-servicemen. The land in Jambhe village area, where Deshmukh bought the 300 acre land for Rs2 crore, is a deemed government land since 1977. It is a mineral-rich zone and any change in land zone is prohibited. Importantly, the land has also been ear-marked for project rehabilitation. Despite this, Deshmukh bought 300 acres of agricultural land in the name of his family members and close relatives. Incidentally, he is also the President of Satara Planning Administration.
 

Vijay Kumbhar thoroughly inspected website of Inspector General of Registration & Stamps (http://igrmaharashtra.gov.in/  and http:www.pune.nic.in), to investigate the matter. While, it has been observed that most public authorities do not suo motu upload information under Section 4 of the RTI Act, both these websites have uploaded most of the land records. The http://igrmaharashtra.gov.in/ website has put up land details of 360 sub registrar officers, 31 district level offices, nine divisional level offices and that of headquarters Pune. Close to 22 lakh documents have been registered across the state and revenue handled is close to Rs5,000 crore, states the website. Strangely though, the http://www.pune.nic.in portal has uploaded land records of all the talukas of Pune except Mulshi, which indeed is a lucrative business area for those who sell farmhouse plots, but that’s another story!
 

Kumbhar’s findings regarding Deshmukh’s land scam are as follows:

  • 15th Nov 2008: 300 acres of village community land was sold by one Satish Bhimsen Agarwal to Suryajirao Patankar for a mere Rs8 lakh on 15 November 2008. This also means the land was sold at just 68 paisa per sq mt or 7 paisa per sq ft.
     
  • 15 October 2010: The same 300 acres of land was sold to Anuradha Deshmukh, Mayuraj Deshmukh, Krishnaji Deshmukh (wife, son and brother, respectively of Deshmukh, the divisional commissioner) and Yugaraj Chunnilala Kavedia, Umesh Yugaraj Kavedia, Risha Ramesh Kavedia,  Savita Ramesh Kavedia (partners)
     
  • 18 January 2013: One of the partners, Ramesh Kavediya applied for the transfer of the agriculture land into non-agriculture (NA) land
     
  • 28 January 2013: Within next 10 days i.e. on 28th January, the change in land zone is complete. The permission is granted for ‘industrial purpose’ by converting this agriculture land to NA land. This is a completely illegal process. Moreover, one of the conditions of converting this land into NA land was “without written permission of the officer who granted said NA, said land or part of the land will not be sub-divided and land should not be used for the purpose other than the permission granted”
     
  • However, the 300 acre land stands witness to an ambitious windmill project called 'Siddhivinayak Eco Power Project’. Shockingly, the land has been divided into plots, without any written permission. As per the scheme, “first 100 lucky buyers” will get 21,000 sq.ft plot for Rs21 lakh.” That means, land that was purchased for just Rs1.60 paisa per sq ft is being sold for Rs100 per sq ft or more, says Kumbhar. Interestingly, after Kumbhar raised a hue and cry, the website of this eco power project has been spiked.
     


Questioning the deal, Kumbhar says, “How come Satish Bhimsen Agarwal came in to the picture? Till 2009, the land seems to be a village community land. Then how ownership of the land was transferred in the name of Agarwal? As per the rehabilitation Act, this land was prohibited from any type of transfer, then how come this land was sold and transferred?; If the land is village community land, then nobody including the state authority can disburse or change the use of land; there are several Supreme Court citations that safeguard village community land, so how come they didn’t apply here?; Who gave permission to sub-divide the land?”
 

After procuring this information, Kumbhar, made a formal complaint to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. In the complaint, he stated, “How come Satish Bhimsen Agarwal came in to the picture? Till 2009 land seems to be village community land, then how ownership of the land was transferred in the name of Agarwal? As per the Rehabilitation Act, this land was prohibited from any type of transfer, then how come it was sold and transferred?; If the land is village community land then nobody including the state authority can disburse or change the use of land; there are several Supreme Court citations that safeguard village community land, so how come they didn’t apply here?; Who gave permission to sub-divide the land?”
 

Kumbhar says, “…as per ready reckoner, the rate of agriculture land at Jambhe is about Rs5.20 lakh per hectare and for NA land the rate is Rs340 per sq. ft. As per this rate, the cost of this land comes to Rs41 crore as NA land and Rs6 crore as agricultural land. The why was this land sold at just Rs2 crore? Is it because the divisional commissioner and his relatives are the beneficiaries?”
 

“Is there any business that gives so much return within a period of one or two years? The land, which was purchased at just Rs2 crore, will now generate Rs127 crores just through sale of land. Interestingly, in his declaration to the government, Deshmukh has declared that he owns two flats, one in Pune and other Mumbai, both worth Rs6 crore and 95 acres of land.
 

In the meanwhile, Satara-based RTI activist Shivaji Raut, who has also been procuring documents regarding Jambhe land scam, has been receiving death threats. Raut made a formal complaint to the police, for protection. This goes to show the depth of vested interests that are busy protecting a corrupt bureaucrat. Is it because similar skeletons may stumble out of their cupboards?
 

(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)

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COMMENTS

Hari Ram Chaudhary

3 years ago

LOKPAL ACT is also passed by Parliament. Complaint can be made to Authorities under this Act.

Hariram Chaudhary
Chairman,
FORUM FOR RTI ACTIVISTS

Hari Ram Chaudhary

3 years ago

WHISTLE BLOWERS PROTECTION BILL is passed by Parliament. RTI activists may apply for protection under this bill

Hariram Chaudhary
Chairman,
FORUM FOR RTI ACTIVISTS

PRADEEP SATHYE

3 years ago

WELL DONE.

HOW CAN I HELP YOU.I ALSO WANT TO MAKE AN RTI APPLICATION FOR INFORMATION ON FOOTPATHS THAT ARE BEING REDONE AGAIN AND AGAIN IN AUNDH, PUNE CITY. HOE CAN I DO IT.

KARTAR SAINANI

3 years ago

Vinitaji,it's sad that you did not get a ticket from AAP.You deserve it.Anyway pl keep up the good work.More power to you.

Ashit Kothi

3 years ago

At times these kind of news makes one feel depressed and think as to nothing can work in India.

To what extent one can fight with how many people.

Only way out is hold each and every public servant responsible / answarable for their deeds/ action.

To ensure that these kind of system is not highjacked / misused, eminent legal personalities as well as people like Mr.Ashok Khemka be consulted.

Ashit Kothi

rajivahuja

3 years ago

Kuhle -aam Chor Baazari hai.Only a politician can get away with it.

Feroze Devitre

3 years ago

In Gujarati we call it" Gharnu Ghambhar", meaning all in the family. It is really amazing how these people brazen it out & behave so shameless even when caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Feroze Devitre

3 years ago

In Gujarati we call it" Gharnu Ghambhar", meaning all in the family. It is really amazing how these people brazen it out & behave so shameless even when caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

SuchindranathAiyerS

3 years ago

In India, where High Court Judges are accustomed to staying criminal proceedings in the lower courts before evidence is gathered in contravention of Supreme Court's guidelines and case laws, and after four years, hectoring the victim by threatening to decide against the victim if the case is not withdrawn, the Neta-Babu will keep the plunder, and this too will be forgotten, even if the RTI activist is murdered in consequence. India is Majoritarian, Sociometric Kleptocracy masquerading as a democracy. There is neither universal primary education nor any semblance of "rule of law"! What happened to Suryanelli Kurien?

Avinash Murkute

3 years ago

Thank you Vinita Jee!!

Nalin Patel

3 years ago

bravo well done.

siddhesh

3 years ago

This is the reason why India is not shining.

REPLY

rajivahuja

In Reply to siddhesh 3 years ago

Incredible India!

Vaibhav Dhoka

3 years ago

In marathi there is proverb"Kumpan Shet Khate"meaning security guard is thief.Here Divisional commissionor.

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