It’s a hill station that’s fast turning into a hot potato after being designated one of India’s biggest land scams by many. Two prominent persons are at the helm of Girivan Project in Hotale village near Kolvan of Mulshi taluka of Pune district — Jayant Mhalgi, son of former BJP MP Rambhau Mhalgi, and actor Vikram Gokhale. Allegations are that the developers have encroached upon 650 acres of agricultural and forest land for the project without obtaining proper permission from authorities and farmers. Several non-resident Indians (NRIs) and other investors from Pune, Mumbai, Goa, Nagpur, Kerala etc claim they have been cheated by the firm.
The project, located approximately 2400 feet above sea level and 400 feet above the Lonavala hill station, has been named ‘Mini Mahabaleshwar’ by the accused. According to plot owners, Jayant Mhalgi and Vikram Gokhale started the project in 1989-1990. Mhalgi is the managing director (MD) and Gokhale the chairman of Girivan Group of Industries. The project was, however, undertaken under the banner of ‘Sujata farms private limited’.
High-end con game
More than 1,050 persons have purchased land till now. Among them 250 are from Mumbai and 400 from Pune. Politicians, bureaucrats, bankers, doctors, engineers, share brokers and retired central agencies officials are among the investors. “I bought land trusting the name of Rambhau Mhalgi, thinking his son Jayant will be honest. But I was wrong. I have been cheated. Mhalgi has no papers of the land,” claimed MS Joshi, who purchased 18 acres of land about 10 years ago and runs a resort in Girivan. Joshi is now alleging that the plot purchased by him actually belongs to a villager.
Not just that. Mhalgi and Gokhale have also allegedly not bothered to follow environment norms and had cut more than a 100 trees to construct 18 kilometres of road inside the project. Interestingly, developers built this road on lands of plot owners but collect Rs 6,000 per year from them as ‘road tax’ every year.
Another plot owner Arun Deshmukh confirmed, “They (Mhalgi and Gokhale) have constructed a road on my plot and now they demand road tax from me.” The scam came to light in 2005 when a farmer Ganesh Jauhari smelt something fishy and demarcated his land through the collector’s office. He was shocked to discover that his land had been sold by Girivan Group of Industries to another person. Allegedly fearing more accusations, Girivan Group of Industries have cordoned off most of the land belonging to the villagers and even constructed a boundary to restrict their entry.
They have deputed security guards at the entrance who reportedly threaten agriculturists and even restrict them from entering their own land. The farmers say they have their Kuldevi (Bhairavnath and Waghjai) temples inside Girivan. In October 2010, the farmers tried to perform a special pooja but allege security guards did not allow them to do so. After heated arguments the farmers registered a complaint in Paud police station and cops reportedly arrested 11 security guards. When contacted forest officer Popat Bhalekar said, “I have received a complaint. The matter is under investigation.”
Land of controversies
1 At least 17 farmers have complained in writing to the tehsildar against Girivan. They claimed:
a: Girivan management had changed the route of natural water flow which has affected agriculture in the area
b: The developers had encroached upon their lands through fencing
c: The management have constructed roads on their land and are also not allowing them to use it
On October 31, 2006, the tehsildar replied to the farmers (copy available with MiD DAY) that he had personally visited the spot and all the allegations made were true. For this, the tehsildar had even warned Girivan officials in writing (copy available with
2 On August 30, 2007, a plot owner Smita Joshi demanded information through an RTI plea to the district collector, asking for documents on Girivan. On September 28, 2007, the collector’s office replied (copy available with MiD DAY) that he has no papers related to Girivan.
3 On December 10, 2007, Member of Parliament (MP) Shivaji Adhalrao Patil wrote a letter (copy available with MiD DAY) to the Hotale village sarpanch, informing that he had written a letter to the then district collector Prabhakar Deshmukh, demanding inquiry into the matter and take necessary action against those who are found guilty. However, till date no such probe has been conducted.
4 On January 25, 2008, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Sharad Bajirao Dhamale also wrote a letter (copy available with MiD DAY) to the tehsildar, complaining that Girivan had illegally constructed a gate restricting the farmers’ entry to their lands. He asked the tehsildar to look in to the matter and take action, but nothing was done.
5 On April 30, 2008, plot owners and farmers met the then superintendent of police (SP) Vishwas Nangre-Patil and complained in writing (copy available with MiD DAY), demanding inquiry and action in to the matter. Nothing happened.
6 On December 18, 2008, revenue department fined Girivan management Rs 75 lakh for carrying out illegal land mining.
The tehsildar wrote to the developers asking them to consider the letter (copy available with MiD DAY) as last warning and stop illegal activities.
7 On July 2, 2009, development officer, panchayat committee, wrote a letter (copy with MiD DAY) to Mhalgi stating that he had constructed on 493 square metres of land illegally in name of Sujata farms private limited. Mhalgi had allegedly forged the documents and had not submitted the original papers. The panchayat said unless the original papers were produced all construction would be deemed illegal.
8 On December 18, 2009, the forest department informed (copy available with MiD DAY) to plot owner Smita Joshi that they had registered an offence against Girivan for illegally encroaching on forest land.
9 On September 6, 2011, farmers (land owners) complained about the issue in a general meeting with the district collector. The collector wrote (copy available with MiD DAY) to the revenue department to inquire into the matter and take action on Girivan.
Plot owners speak
Cheated land buyers formed Girivan plot owners association five years ago and since then 250 members have enrolled. This is what they said:
>> “I have filed a case in the consumer court. It’s shocking. Mhalgi told the court that I had never bought the land and have encroached upon it. Mhalgi took money for a total of 18 guntha but registered only 13 guntha. He had no documents of one guntha of land,” said Dr RN Chaturvedi, president of the association.
>> “Mhalgi and Gokhale have cheated us in collaboration with government officials. Now we want justice,” said Arun Deshmukh, vice-president of
the association. Seven years back Deshmukh bought 14,000 sq ft of land. He claims, Mhalgi encroached upon 1,000 sq ft of
it and constructed a road.
>> “I have collected all documents that prove Girivan is illegal. I will produce them at the right time,” said a plot owner, who is a retired official from a central investigative agency.
>> “It feels like a prison inside Girvan. If I try to take a walk in the morning or evening in the area, the security guards object. I am shocked to know that Girvan is illegal,” said a female plot owner, who wished to remain anonymous.
>> “If the project falls in agricultural land, then how have Mhalgi and Gokhale developed it? Why haven’t they demarcated their land till now? They are qualified gundas,” said a plot holder.
The other side
Replying to MiD DAY’s queries, the management of Girivan said, “Our project is absolutely legal. There is no forestland in our project. The land in project (Girivan) falls in agriculture category. We have not cut trees; in fact we have planted thousands of them in the project with the help of the forest department. The revenue department has claimed an amount from us towards royalty. The matter is pending in court.”
“Everything is legal in our project. Some persons are trying to defame us. They are creating unnecessary nuisance. I challenge that if any person proves that we have encroached upon forestland, we will hand over double the amount of land. Some plot holders have illegally developed their tracts,” said Vikram Gokhale, chairman of Girivan.