Court strikes down dozens of allotments made in early 2011, describing them as 'most capricious, inequitable and feudal' exercise of discretion by a former minister
Kolkata: The Calcutta high court on Wednesday handed West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee her biggest political weapon against the Left Front, when a judge struck down dozens of land allotments made in early 2011, describing them as “most capricious, inequitable and feudal" exercise of discretion by a former minister.
Erstwhile housing minister Gautam Deb of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is in the dock for allotting land in a planned township neighbouring Kolkata at his discretion as chairman of the government agency overseeing the development of New Town (Rajarhat).
A section of those who received these allotments were prominent personalities—“from judges to politicians, IAS and IPS officers…public servants (and) sportspersons", said the judgement, adding that the “arbitrariness" in awarding land to these applicants “betrays…conspiratorial appropriation of state wealth… (by) those in power".
After the Trinamool Congress (TMC) seized power ousting the Left Front in 2011, these allotments were cancelled by West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd (Hidco), the agency developing the township. Many of the allotments were also made to property developers, said Debashis Sen, principal secretary in the state’s urban development department.
Judge Sanjib Banerjee on Wednesday dismissed 61 petitions challenging Hidco’s decision to cancel the allotments. He even refused to put his judgement on hold, which is a common practice if the petitioners seek time to appeal the verdict in a higher court, saying that “such prayer (for stay of the operation of the judgement) is unhestitangly (sic) declined".
Deb, who is not keeping well, couldn’t immediately be contacted for comments. A spokesperson for the CPM in West Bengal declined to comment.
“We are happy that we have finally got justice," said Sen, Hidco’s chairman and managing director. It was Sen who had unearthed the irregularities in the allotments decided upon in a Hidco board meeting on 28 February 2011. The chairman’s discretionary quota has since been abolished under an order of the chief minister, he added.
“This is an important judgement because it upholds the cancellation of more than 250 allotments made under the discretionary quota," said Debanjan Mandal, partner of Fox Mandal, the law firm that represented Hidco. “It follows the principle laid down by the Supreme Court in allocation of scarce natural resources."
Hidco’s board had met on 28 February 2011 and had issued letters of intimation of allotment for 42 non-residential projects and 60 residential projects, apart from considering and approving 59 more applications for residential projects.
A sub-committee of the board was constituted to consider applications for land for eight healthcare facilities. The sub-committee met on the same day after the board meeting. Its recommendations were ratified by the board even before the applications were considered by the panel, the judgement said.
It was also found some of the companies allotted land on that day were incorporated only after they had secured plots for development.
The petitioners who had challenged Hidco’s cancellation of allotments had said they were victims of the change of political guard in the state, which followed soon after they were awarded development rights, but Banerjee dismissed the argument, saying “The manner in which discretion was exercised by…the erstwhile chairman… does not leave room for the justification of any of the allotments."
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