Allotment of a prime piece of land in Mumbai to actress and BJP MP Hema Malini by the Maharashtra government for her dance academy at a throwaway price of Rs 70,000 kicked up a political storm on Friday with the Congress accusing it of double standards and flouting procedures.
The BJP-led Government, however, defended its decision with Housing Minister Prakash Mehta saying this was not for the first time that land was allotted to a cultural institution at a cheaper rate, recalling that cultural and academic bodies set up in memory of Congress leaders including Y B Chavan had benefited from such a gesture.
The state government has allotted land measuring 2,000 square metres to Hema's Natyvihar Kala Kendra. According to the documents obtained under an RTI query, the veteran actress has been allotted the land located in suburban Oshiwara, at the rate of Rs 35 per square metre (total cost Rs 70,000) by the Mumbai Suburban District Collectorate. The market value of the land is estimated to be running into crores of rupees.
The plot in question is said to be originally reserved for a garden and was given to the BJP MP from Mathura for a pittance even as she keeps in possession a plot allotted to her earlier in the country's financial capital.
"The government is indulging in double standards in allocation of the plot. This government had earlier said they will formulate a fresh policy on granting government land which directly affects the state exchequer but in the case of the BJP MP, no such procedure was followed," MPCC President Ashol Chavan told reporters in Mumbai.
Mehta while defending the state government's decision said the tradition of Maharashtra must be kept in mind.
"You (must) see the tradition of Maharashtra in this regard. Prime pieces of lands have been given on one rupee lease to institutions related to Yashvantrao Chavan, Vasant Dada Patil, Shankar Rao Chavan and so many," Mehta told PTI.
"It has been the tradition of Maharashtra to give land at nominal prices to those who run the institutions on pure cultural and academic purposes and non-commercial intentions."
Asked about Hema being alloted a second plot when she has not returned the earlier one, as found by a RTI query, Mehta said that he does not deal with that department. He, however, said there had been so many cases when multiple plots have been alloted to one institution.
Hema was not available for comments on the matter. The Shiv Sena-BJP government had reportedly in 1997 given Hema a plot of land in Versova village of Andheri taluka, but she could not develop it due to CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) issues.
The allotment came under scanner after the government failed to charge the actress-politician (for the current land) as per the ready reckoner rate. The ready reckoner rate is an annual statement of property rates based on which the government collects stamp duty from buyers. It is the basis for calculation of market value of flats for stamp duty and registration charges.