About 24 acres of prime land belonging to the Maharashtra government agency City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) in Kharghar node of Navi Mumbai was sold to one Paradise Builders for a meagre sum of ₹ 3.60 crore, senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan alleged at a press conference.
“While this land has been sold at ₹ 15 lakh per acre, which works out to ₹ 371 per square meter, Cidco has sold land in the area at ₹ 1,84,000 per square metre during the corresponding period to other buyers. This means land worth ₹ 1,767 crore has been sold to a private party for a pittance. This is a scam and something of this magnitude cannot be done without the blessings of the highest authority," Chavan said.
The Congress leader pointed out that Cidco came under the urban development ministry. As the chief minister held the portfolio, his office could have facilitated the transaction, he alleged.
“Though we have not yet found the signature of the top man, a decision of this magnitude cannot be taken without the consent of the highest authority," Chavan said.
The Congress demanded the land allotment be struck down with immediate effect.
Only an impartial judicial probe by two sitting judges of Bombay High Court could bring out the truth behind this “scam", said Randeep Surjewala, the chief spokesperson of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
“We have a clean chit chief minister in Maharashtra who keeps giving away clean chits to his ministerial colleagues whenever a scam breaks out. That is why only an impartial judicial inquiry could unravel the truth," Surjewala said.
The Congress would file a petition in Bombay High Court, if the chief minister did not concede to the demand, he said. This was echoed by Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam, who said the Congress would move Bombay High Court in a few days if a judicial inquiry was not immediately ordered.
The Congress would raise the “scam" during the monsoon session of the state legislature beginning 4 July in Nagpur, Surjewala said.
The private builder wanted to buy land close to the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport, Nirupam said. In February 2018, the Raigad collector allotted 24 acres of land in Navi Mumbai to eight farmers who were the “project affected persons" of the Koyna dam project in Satara district.
Chavan, a legislator from Karad in the same district, pointed out that in Maharashtra, people affected by any dam project must be allotted agriculture land. “However, the land that was allotted is not agriculture land and was reserved for a park. It belonged to Cidco and the Raigad collector had no authority to allot it," he said.
“Yet, to our knowledge, Cidco has not filed any objection to this allotment nor has any no objection certificate been produced," Chavan said.
After the allotment in February 2018, the land survey was done on 8 May and mutation was changed on 14 May, Chavan said. “On 14 and 15 May, the sale deed was registered between these eight project affected persons and the private builder. Everything was done at breakneck speed, which obviously means that the entire transaction was facilitated by the highest authority," Chavan said.
The Congress leader said the builder took possession of the land by force on 23 June, adding that the state government had deployed a large police force to facilitate the physical possession. Fadnavis also holds the home ministry, Chavan pointed out.
Surjewala alleged that the public exchequer had suffered a loss of ₹ 1,767 crore, and also said that there was complicity among Cidco, urban development department, and revenue officials. “The judicial probe we have demanded should also find out if this is a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act and if the chief minister himself is involved," he said.
However, the chief spokesperson of the Maharashtra unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Madhav Bhandari, said that the land was worth ₹ 5.29 crore and not ₹ 1,767 crore. The land belonged to the state government and it was never transferred to Cidco, he said. “The land was always owned by the government and was never transferred to Cidco. Everything has been done in accordance with law. A local resident had challenged this allotment in Bombay High Court which on 26 June rejected the petition and upheld the allotment," Bhandari pointed out.
As the land belongs to the state government, the Raigad collector is the appropriate authority in this matter, Bhandari said. “Such matters are decided at the level of collectors and no files come to the chief minister’s office in such cases," he said.