With Adarsh demolition order, HC trains guns on tainted officials

High Court asks state to demolish Adarsh building; government has 12 weeks to appeal in apex court

Taking a strong stand against corruption, the Bombay High Court on Friday ordered the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to demolish the 31-storey scam-tainted Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in upscale Colaba, holding that the tower was illegally constructed. It also directed the central and state governments to initiate proceedings against bureaucrats, ministers and politicians for negligence and misuse of power.

Then CM Ashok Chavan resigned in 2010, after it was found that his relatives were given three flats during his term as the revenue minister
Then CM Ashok Chavan resigned in 2010, after it was found that his relatives were given three flats during his term as the revenue minister

Besides, the bench comprising justices Rajesh Ketkar and Ranjit More told the society to pay for the demolition and shell out a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each for the expenses incurred by the six officials — Dr Nalini Bhat, Bharat Bhushan, A Senthilvel and E Thirunavukkarasu from the MoEF, former BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunte and former municipal officer TC Benjamin — who had deposed during the trial.

The HC, however, agreed to stay its order for 12 weeks, following a plea from the society's counsel, Nawroz Seervai, to allow it to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. Justice Ketkar also asked the BEST Undertaking to "take into custody its plot adjacent to the society".

The petitions
The court had in September 2015 started the final hearing of petitions, including the one filed by the Adarsh society (challenging the demolition order of the MoEF, dated January 16, 2011, to demolish the structure built on defence land on the grounds that it had violated CRZ guidelines), and the plea of the defence ministry seeking implementation of the demolition order and a title suit of the plot's ownership.

Testament to corruption: The Adarsh Housing Society in Colaba was supposed to house war heroes and widows who lost their husbands in the Kargil War. File pic
Testament to corruption: The Adarsh Housing Society in Colaba was supposed to house war heroes and widows who lost their husbands in the Kargil War. File pic

The society had sought a stay on the MoEF's order, claiming that it had not been given a fair chance to represent itself. The defence ministry, through counsel Dhiren Shah, had sought the implementation of the MoEF, staking claim to the land on which the building was constructed. It had also argued in court that the building posed a threat to national security since it overlooked key defence installations. The Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management, represented by senior counsel Darius Khambatta, told the court that the action initiated against the society was justified and legal. The bench had reserved its order on December 2 after hearing all parties.

Baying for Ashok Chavan's scalp
The Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society was sanctioned for widows of Kargil War heroes and its height was to be restricted to six floors. But it grew to 100 m. The issue had been brewing since 2003, but a scrutiny of the high-profile list of owners began only in 2010, prompting the Army and the CBI to launch separate investigations. The CAG, too, submitted a report on the scam.

Then Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was the first casualty of the scam, who resigned on November 9, 2010, after it was found that his relatives, including his mother-in-law, were given three flats during his term as the revenue minister.

In January 2011, the CBI registered an FIR, stating that the society promoters had colluded with bureaucrats and politicians to take over a defence land and that documents for this acquisition had been forged. In its chargesheet, it named Chavan, then sub-divisional officer of defence estate office RC Thakur, Brigadier (retd) MM Wanchu, former Congress MLC and Adarsh promoter KL Gidwani, Major General (retd) AR Kumar, Maj Gen (retd) TK Kaul, Brigadier (retd) TK Sinha; retired IAS officers PV Deshmukh, Ramanand Tiwari and Subhash Lalla; serving IAS officers Pradeep Vyas and Jairaj Phathak; and Col (retd) RK Bakshi.

In 2011, the state government set up a two-member judicial commission, headed by Justice JA Patil, to probe the scam. In its report submitted two years later, the commission said there had been 25 illegal allotments, including 22 purchases made by proxy.

In 2013, then governor, K Sankaranarayanan, denied permission to the CBI to prosecute Chavan in the case. The CBI then approached the HC to drop Chavan's name from its chargesheet, but the court refused to allow this, saying there was evidence that Chavan had made financial gains while holding a public office.

In February this year, the CBI got nod from Governor CH Vidyasagar Rao to prosecute Chavan under Section 197 (to try a public servant) of the CrPC. To this, Chavan said he was being targeted by the BJP.

Arrests

The CBI has so far arrested retired major generals TK Kaul and AR Kumar, retired brigadier MM Wanchu, Adarsh promoter KL Gidwani, his son, Kailash, IAS officers Pradeep Vyas and Jairaj Phatak and former IAS officer Ramanand Tiwari.

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