Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Friday directed the Union environment ministry to demolish the controversial Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society building in Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade area, but also gave 12 weeks’ time to the society to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
The demolition should be carried out at the expense of the petitioner (Adarsh society), a division bench of the court ruled.
The court also told the Maharashtra government to initiate criminal and civil proceedings against politicians and bureaucrats involved in the case for violation of rules.
The order was delivered in an open court by a bench of justices R.V. More and R.G. Ketkar on a bunch of petitions filed by Adarsh society challenging the demolition order of the Union environment ministry and a title suit filed by the defence ministry claiming that it owned the land on which the 31-storey building was constructed.
The high court, in giving its verdict, upheld an order passed by the Union environment ministry in January 2011, holding the Adarsh society guilty of violation of environmental laws, including the Coastal Regulation Zone rules.
The ministry had ordered the demolition of the Adarsh apartment block, built in violation of environmental rules and where flats meant for the relatives of defence personnel who died in the Kargil conflict were illegally allotted to and acquired by politicians and bureaucrats.
Social activist Praveen Wategaonkar had filed a petition in the high court citing the environment ministry order and also challenging the very legality of Adarsh society, built on a plot reserved exclusively for the kin of defence personnel.
Wategaonkar told reporters after the court ruling that the Maharashtra and central governments should now start civil and criminal proceedings against all the top politicians named in the case, including former Maharashtra chief ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde and Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar.
Apart from Shinde and Nilangekar, the other prominent politician allegedly involved in the case is former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan. Chavan is a Congress member of Parliament (MP) from Nanded and president of the state unit of the party.
Chavan was asked to step down as Maharashtra chief minister by the Congress in November 2010 over allegations that his relatives had acquired two apartments in return for the violation of rules that facilitated construction of the building and allotment of flats to ineligible beneficiaries.
In February this year, Maharashtra governor C.H. Vidyasagar Rao gave permission to the Central Bureau of Investigation to prosecute Chavan in the case after the investigating agency told the state government that it had found “new evidence" against the Congress MP.
The Adarsh society has been accused of flouting environmental and title laws, illegally allotting extra floor space index, and wrongfully allotting flats to ineligible beneficiaries.
Reacting to the judgement, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said, “I will believe that the judgement is for real only when Adarsh society is actually razed to the ground. It has flats of so many bigwigs."
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Madhav Bhandari described the ruling as “historic", adding that it corroborated what the party had always said about the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) involvement in the scam.
In a counter, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Savant said the ruling should worry those who have flats in Adarsh society such as current railway minister Suresh Prabhu and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti.
“The high court judgement has nothing to do with the Congress party. The Adarsh commission has named BJP leaders Suresh Prabhu and Ajay Sancheti, and they should be worried by the judgement. Several others have benami flats. The judgement is also against Adarsh society," Savant said.
Asked about the public perception that the scam was the handiwork of Congress-NCP leaders, Savant said no inquiry had proved that Congress leaders were involved.
But a Congress legislator, who requested anonymity, said the ruling was a setback not only to Chavan but other Congress leaders named in the case and the party. “It comes at a time when we are trying to build an agitation against the BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state on several corruption cases. It takes us back to where we were before the assembly elections," the legislator said.
PTI contributed to this story.