HC asks ex-ministers to reply to PIL that alleges they got land cheap

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court today asked former Maharashtra ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane, along with their educational institutions, to file affidavits by April 10 in reply to a PIL which alleged they misused their position to get land from government at throwaway prices.

The direction was given by a bench comprising Justices Abhay Oka and Anil Menon, which was hearing the public interest litigation filed by social activist Hemant Patil on the basis of a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report.

The court also directed Manjra Education Trust set up by former Chief Minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh to reply to the PIL making a similar allegation of procuring land at a throwaway price for setting up the educational institution.

After Deshmukh's death, the HC had ordered that his name be deleted though Manjra Education Trust, floated by him, continues to be a respondent.

Meanwhile, former state Agriculture Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil has denied allegations levelled in the PIL that the government land had been allotted to the educational institution 'Vikhe Pratishthan' at a price much below market rates.

An affidavit filed by 'Vikhe Pratishthan' said that Vikhe Patil was not a trustee of this institution and termed as "baseless" the allegations in the PIL.

"The land was allotted to this institution in keeping with a government notification of June 21, 1988, which had offered plots at low prices for schools not having playgrounds. No rules have been violated in giving land to Vikhe Pratishthan," the affidavit said.

Another former minister Patangrao Kadam, who was among the respondents, had filed an affidavit earlier denying favours received from Maharashtra government in getting land at cheap rates for setting up educational trusts.

He said land for his Bharati Vidyapeeth Trust in Pune was obtained from the state government as per rules and there was no illegality involved. "All rules had been strictly followed," the affidavit claimed, terming the PIL's allegations as "false".

"The PIL is politically motivated and should be dismissed with costs since the allegations were totally false," Kadam's affidavit said.

According to the PIL, the CAG report had alleged that Vilasrao Deshmukh had approved transfer of 24,000 square metres of land to his Manjra Education Trust while Patangrao Kadam was allotted nearly 20,000 square metres of land in Pune free of cost for his own educational institute Bharati Vidyapeeth.

The PIL alleged that the CAG report had mentioned that Chhagan Bhujbal had been gifted 50,000 square metres of land in Nashik for his educational institute, Mumbai Education Trust (MET).

Earlier, the issue was raised in Maharashtra assembly during Congress-NCP rule by BJP MLA Devendra Fadnavis who is currently Maharashtra Chief Minister, said the PIL.

He had alleged that the CAG report was 'intentionally' hidden by Maharashtra government to save political leaders. Since Fadnavis had raised the issue, he has also been made a respondent to the petition.

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