The plush Hiranandani Garden and other landmarks in Powai are allegedly built on land reserved for mass housing in a real estate scam worth Rs45,000 crore today. Some 344 acres of land which would have given decent housing for the common man was turned into living for the well-offs by the reputed builder Hiranandani
The Bombay High Court has lifted its earlier stay on the probe into the alleged Rs45,000-crore Powai real estate scam, making way for the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) to restart investigating Hiranandani Developers, senior state bureaucrat Thomas Benjamin and other unknown persons. The order has given boost to the efforts by social activist Santosh Daundkar and IPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh. The mammoth fraud stood exposed due to the diligent efforts made by the then the Commissioner of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) A Ratnakar Gaikwad.
According to YP Singh, “Now that the HC has lifted the stay on the investigation, it is likely that further probe may open up a can of worms and several ministers, politicians and IAS officers who helped Hiranandani may be apprehended. Further, since the stay on investigation has been lifted, Thomas Benjamin should be placed under immediate suspension by the Government of Maharashtra under the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1968. It would indeed not be in public interest if such an officer remains as the head of the state public health department.”
In July 2012, based on the complaint by social activist Santosh Daundkar, a special court had asked the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) to file an FIR in the matter against Niranjan Hiranandani, TC Benjamin and other unknown persons for the Rs30,000 crore land scam (Rs45,000 crore in current valuation).
Mr Benjamin, who was earlier additional chief secretary of urban development department and now additional chief secretary of the public health department of the Government of Maharashtra, then moved the HC to challenge the probe. A single judge on 10 July 2012 granted an interim stay on the investigation, pending hearing of the case.
The relief has been short-lived as the Bombay HC bench comprising justice Sadhana S Jadhav and justice AS Oka made following observation in the order dated 25 September 2012—“By granting ad interim relief, the writ court cannot interfere with the process of investigation. Hence, we decline to continue the ad interim relief granted earlier.”
In his complaint, Mr Daundkar alleged that the state had given 344 acres in Powai on an 80-year lease to Hiranandani builders in 1986 to build small houses for mass housing. The complainant accused the developer of violating terms and conditions of the tripartite agreement it had signed with the state government and infrastructure body MMRDA in 1986.
According to the agreement, 50% of the houses were supposed to be 430 sq feet and remaining 50% of 860 sq ft size, but barring the tenements compulsorily required to be surrendered to the government, there was not a single tenement in the entire complex of 430 sq feet. Only luxury apartments were constructed for the rich that get premium valuations.
The complaint alleges that instead of taking due action against the guilty public servants and private persons, accused principal secretary, urban development department, Thomas Benjamin, and other suspect officers in the Government of Maharashtra started doing a fraud, whereby they started indulging in cunning acts so as to help accused No. 1 (Mr Hiranandani) come out of this fraud.
According to YP Singh, “Niranjan Hiranandani is the president of the Indian Merchants Chamber and recently was felicitated by no less a person than Raj Thackeray. Ironically, Raj Thackeray, who talks so much about the Marathi people, felicitated that person who has eaten up that land, which otherwise would have taken out lakhs of Maharashtrians from slums and chawls, and given them in decent habitats to stay. Raj Thackeray who himself is a builder and is involved in several dubious deals on land perhaps may have had no option but to felicitate a fellow builder.”
The complaint states that Mr Benjamin took numerous dubious decisions as follows:
• Land not to be taken back even though it was meant for mass housing.
• To permit 100% extra FSI to be used on account of TDR without putting in the stipulation of mass housing even though the agreement condition stipulated that every form of FSI shall be used for mass housing.
• To not to insist on 15% of tenements to be surrendered to Government of Maharashtra on account of construction done by using TDR FSI. As per the agreement every form of FSI, including the TDR FSI had to be reckoned and 15% of GROSS FSI (i.e. of both normal FSI and TDR FSI) had to be given to Government of Maharashtra at stipulated concessional rates in the form of small tenements.
• To condone the infringement of making massive luxurious houses instead of making small houses for mass housing.
• Permitting the retention of illegally merged tenements so as to give them a shape of large luxurious houses.
• To use the liberal rules of 2007 even though the agreement for mass housing was signed in the year 1986 and that rules of 2007 could never have been applied for a land given for mass housing in the year 1986.
• To exclude lift, lobby and many other constructions from FSI computation by using the Development Control Regulations of 1991 whereas in the applicable rule during the year 1986 was Development Control Rules, 1967, which was not so much liberal.
• To permit construction of commercial areas in the complex whereas the agreement of 1986 did not make any such provision and was strictly meant for mass housing. It was for this illegal relaxation to the sacrosanct provisions of the agreement that commercial buildings of enormous sizes have come up in the place which was to be for mass housing.
• Creation of a legal fiction whereby the matter could be settled by imposing fine. Initially a fine of about Rs2,000 crore was proposed. Now it is learnt that the same has been brought down to about Rs200 crore or even lesser.
• To let off Accused No. 1 without facing prosecution for criminal breach of trust, and violation of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976 and also the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
• To not to take any action against the public servants who allowed this fraud to take place right before their eyes for almost 20 years.
• To permit Accused No. 1 to not to dismantle the construction which was under way and half done and to convert the same into small tenements.