Pune land scam probe may be given to CBI, says court

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MUMBAI - Another land scam in Pune, which could run into over Rs.3 billion, paling the Adarsh Society scam of Mumbai, may be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe, a legal official said.

This was indicated Monday by a division bench of the Bombay High Court following a public interest litigation filed by state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman Madhav Bhandari, his lawyer Ganesh Sovani said.

This land irregularity could be even bigger than Adarsh Society, observed the bench of Justice B.H. Marlapalle and Justice U.D. Salvi, directing the CBI to be present at the final hearing Thursday.

The PIL concerns hundreds of allegedly bogus orders passed by government officials exempting prime chunks of land in Pune from being acquired by the state under the former Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (ULCRA).

Accordingly, on the basis of the fake ULCRA orders, lakhs of square metres of land which could have been used for public housing for the poor had been rendered for ‘private uses’ and huge profits, Sovani explained.

The high court response came in the wake of a report submitted by a one-man committee of retired IAS officer Sudhakar Joshi, and the judges said they would consider transferring the case to the CBI after hearing out Advocate-General Ravi Kadam.

A former minister of state in the Shiv Sena-BJP government between 1995-1999 is said to have signed some of the orders against which the PIL was filed.

Sovani said in his petition that a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe into the mega land scam, which was exposed in 2005, failed to make much headway. He said over 11,000 orders had been passed between 1976-2005, under the ULCRA, which now stands repealed.

Under the ULCRA, an individual could only hold 500 sq metres land and anything excess in his possession was taken over by the state to house the poor or weaker sections.

Sovani contended that fake bogus orders were issued showing large tracts of land as ‘non-surplus’, and the owners were exempted from surrendering it to the state.

In this, Sovani alleged, senior officials connived with the builders’ lobby to grab huge chunks of prime land in and around Pune.

When the scam was first exposed in 2005 and later the state CID was handed over the probe, one of the beneficiaries had to cough out a fine of Rs.80 million (Rs.8 crore).

If the penalty from one accused could enrich the state exchequer by Rs.8 crore, the 300 files awaiting scrutiny by the state CID can yield a lot of money for the state coffers, the PIL pointed out.

The figure from this could run into over Rs.300 crore (Rs.3 billion) and the matter needs to be thoroughly probed as it is bigger than the Adarsh Society scam, Sovani said.

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