CBI probing why runway rules were broken for building

Yesterday, MiD DAY exposed how guidelines pertaining to air safety were put on the backburner by the top officials of the Civil Aviation Ministry at the Centre and the Airports Authority India (AAI, Western region) to grant a no objection certificate (NOC) of a 16 metre high building located dangerously close to the main airport runway 0927 in Santacuz (‘How runway rules were broken to let this building come up,’ June 15).

Shaky ground: The building is located dangerously close to the main airport runway in Santacruz. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The case is now under the scanner of CBI and the vigilance department, top officials have admitted. MiD DAY had exposed how the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) had initially decreed in two successive orders issued in 2009 and 2010 that no building beyond a height of 12.22 metres could be built on the spot at a distance of 668 metres from the runway.

However, within a matter of months, the MOCA had done a volte-face on its earlier orders, and ordered that an NOC be issued for a building 16 metres high. The response had raised the suspicion of Mangala Narasimhan, a top official of the NOC department in the AAI. Narasimhan sent several mails and letters to her bosses in Mumbai and in the Delhi headquarters, but to no avail. Unhappy with the apathetic response of the MOCA and Airports Authority of India (AAI) towards the malpractices indulged in to issue the NOC to Chouhan Builders, she wrote to the vigilance department in September 2011.

A detailed probe was then conducted by the vigilance department, wherein all concerned AAI officials named in the matter were questioned.
“The vigilance enquiry in the matter was initiated after the lady officer complained and brought it to the notice of the vigilance department. The department is expected to submit its final report in a few weeks,” said a source in the top league of the AAI, on condition of anonymity. Sources also revealed that the matter was referred for an investigation by the disciplinary authority of AAI.

“The role of top officials, including those in the Aviation Ministry, were questioned in the matter of the contentious NOC. Since the matter was not under the jurisdiction of the chief vigilance officer of the AAI, it was then referred to CBI,” the source further added. The CBI started its investigation on October 10, 2011, to trace a possible money trail between the builder and bureaucrats in the MOCA, which resulted in the sudden granting of permission for a 16 metre building, after the Ministry had twice decreed that no building could be built at the spot over a height of 12.22 metres.
However, the pace of the investigation slackened owing to the substantial evidence required to establish the case.

Top officials, including whistleblower Narasimhan, were questioned at the Colaba office of CBI at Tanna House. “I am not aware of the case. I will have to check with the officers concerned,” said Rishi Raj Singh, Joint Director CBI, (Western Zone). Despite repeated calls, the Chief Vigilance Officer, AAI, Ashok Kumar could not be reached for comment.  

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