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:
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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