An unfinished 31-storey Adarsh Housing society structure in Mumbai’s prime real estate area of Colaba has for long stood as a living symbol of a corrupt nexus between the politicians, bureaucrats, some armed forces officers and builders. Worse, this scam was made out from what had began with a most noble cause idea — housing for Kargil war widows.
The might of this corrupt nexus could be assessed from the fact that despite the first big story on Adarsh scam breaking in The Times of India in October 2010, ‘Top generals, babus and netas in land-grab’ and the ministry of Environment and Forest in January 2011 ordering its demolition for violating coastal regulations, reminders from the Ministry of Defence to that effect, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) making scathing observations against it, an intensive CBI inquiry, a judicial inquiry and such other high-level inquiries, files moving up and down to desks of persons of authority of all hues, it stood where it was.
On Friday, it took the Bombay High Court to order the demolition of this 31-storey structure.
Besides the legalities or illegalities of the issue concerned, the high court order is intended to serve as a warning to the wrongdoers that they would not be spared, howsoever high and mighty they may be.
After all, this was a scam where then Maharastra chief minister Ashok Chavan had to be sacked by the Congress high command, under public pressure. But the proportion and connection of scamsters was so deep-rooted that the last Congress chief minister of Maharastra Prithviraj Chavan rejected painstaking findings of a Judicial Commission, constituted by one of his own party predecessors. Prithviraj did so perhaps because the findings of the report were too much for him and his party to bear. The report had indicted four former chief ministers — Ashov Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and SN Patil, two former urban development ministers and 12 top bureaucrats.
Read what the CAG had to say in its report in 2011: “The episode of Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society reveals how a group of select officials, placed in key posts, could subvert rules and regulations in order to grab prime government land, a public property, for personal benefit.”
Contrast that with explanation which Adarsh Housing society management gives on its official website:
“The Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society (CHS), Colaba was allotted state government land by the Government of Maharashtra as per a well-established procedure and was granted various permissions as per law by the Planning Authority. The entire Adarsh controversy hyped by media was a machination of jealous generals, mediocre bureaucrats and novice policemen. The Generals fraudulently claimed that the plot allotted to Adarsh was owned by the Ministry of Defence although the records of the Defence Estates show that it is a state government land. Some bureaucrats, who did not study the issues carefully, wrongly reported that the clearances given to Adarsh CHS were not legal and the policemen registered a criminal case without ascertaining the ownership of the land and without understanding the state government’s procedure in allotting isolated pieces of land.”
Josy Joseph who broke the story about the scam first in The Times of India, then wrote, “the story began a few months after the Kargil conflict of 1999 when the army vacated the controversial land in Colaba, handing it over to Adarsh Housing Society. Almost every army officer who was in the chain of command when this transfer and subsequent developments happened, including two former army chiefs, now have apartments in the highrise. Senior bureaucrats in the state who played important roles in the decision-making process hold apartments through their relatives, as do politicians from the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena. Almost everyone who could have objected to the project appear to have been silenced with apartments in the high-rise, which consequently rose from the original plan of six floors to the present 31 floors.”
Although the Adarsh society, its builders and the Maharastra government can file an appeal in the Supreme Court, for now the judgment is sure to set the wrongdoers shivering. One can assume that other penal punishments for indulging in massive illegalities may follow.
But the key question is whether the order to demolish Adarsh will act as a deterrent to the corrupt neta-babu-police-builder nexus. Consider some such high profile cases of recent past and judge for yourself whether any lessons were learnt by those concerned.
It was not long ago when the Campa Cola society in Mumbai was in the news. Unlike Adarsh, the residents of Campa Cola society were mostly gullible home-buyers, some of whom who had invested their life savings in that society and had also lived there for a long time. But the what ultimately matters before the law was that they bought and lived in apartments that were unauthorised structures.
In Delhi, four upper stories of a posh White House apartments on Bhagwan Das Road in Lutyens Delhi was demolished in 1996. By urban standards, White House flats were huge and decently-built. The residents cried as their belongings were removed and flats razed to the ground.
Recently, the Allahabad High Court ordered the demolition of twin under-construction residential towers built by Supertech Builders in Noida for violating building regulations and the UP Apartment Act. It directed that the money should be returned to the home-buyers with 14 percent interest in three months. The matter is now pending in Supreme Court, which has, pending hearing, stayed the demolition.
Last week, the Greater Noida authority sealed over 1,000 flats of Supertech’s Czar project in Greater Noida for violating the rules and building these additional flats beyond the sanctioned plan.
Remember Yadav Singh — the jailed engineer-in-chief for Noida and the Greater Noida authority, who didn’t have a degree to go beyond an Assistant Engineer, but became a law onto himself in two most high-profile cities of UP. He symbolised corruption and the rot in the existing system. He rose and rose under Mayawati regime. His money power was such that a regime change in UP in 2012 didn’t matter to him. He continued to prosper even during the Samajwadi Party regime. It could perhaps have been the only time that a state government — Akhilesh Yadav government in this case — went to the Supreme Court to protect a state government officer (challenging the Centre’s decision to order CBI probe), whose tales of corruption have become a sort of folklore in the state.
The Narendra Modi government has yet to reveal what Yadav Singh has confessed before the CBI.
The Bombay High Court’s order to demolish the 31-storey Adarsh tower thus becomes significant in more ways than one, which goes beyond mere deciding on its legality.
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