Mumbai: BEST depot allotted to third-party developer; MahaRERA turns blind eye

Updated: Feb 15, 2020, 07:33 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

BEST initiates an inquiry into development of Marol Maroshi bus depot after RTI shows that original builder outsourced work to the third party despite Undertaking refusing permission

Empress Heights built on Marol Maroshi bus depot land. Pic/ Datta Kumbhar
Empress Heights built on Marol Maroshi bus depot land. Pic/ Datta Kumbhar

Amid rising cases of developers duping flat buyers is one of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST), too, being taken for a ride. The Marol Maroshi bus depot was allegedly illegally allotted to M/s Dhruvi Properties Private Ltd for construction by M/s KSL and Industries Ltd, with whom BEST had entered into an agreement in 2008.

This was done despite the BEST estate manager's refusal. BEST authorities have initiated a probe. The MahaRERA registration of projects too names M/S Dhruvi as the developers of the land. Consumers have even deposited money for booking flats in the tower allegedly being developed here.

The matter came to light when P Almeida, who had booked a flat in the project — Empress Heights — approached advocate Godfrey Pimenta. The Almeida couple had booked a 2 BHK flat measuring 660 sq ft worth R1.18 crore and paid around R41 lakh in 2011. Disappointed with the delay in securing their flat documents and possession, the couple wanted to withdraw from the project. The duo approached MahaRERA in 2018 where they were told to either wait some more or withdraw and get a refund with 30 per cent deduction from the deposit paid. Fearing a R11-lakh loss, they opted to stay in the project.

Pimenta, however, suspected some misdoings and filed a Right to Information (RTI) query with the BEST, Building Proposal Department (BMC), Western Suburbs and that's how the scam was uncovered.

Pimenta said, according to the RTI response, BEST owns the land in Andheri East measuring 4,798 sq mt and as per the Sanctioned Development Plan of Mumbai 2034, the said plots are collectively designated for 'BEST Bus Depot'.

The BMC awarded the development rights of such BEST depots to various parties and the Marol one was accordingly given to KSL vide a development agreement dated May 15, 2008, executed between BEST, as the owner of one part and KSL and Industries Ltd, as the developer of the other part. As per the terms of the agreement, the developer is required to construct a bus station, staff quarters with parking yard among other things in four phases. In case of delay, the developer was also required to pay a per day penalty. However, KSL has been embroiled in Enforcement Directorate case and work on developing the plots was stalled.

The development of the bus depot came under the jurisdiction of MahaRERA Authority on May 1, 2017 and it is now registered with MahaRERA. After the RTI query was filed, BEST has refused to assign the development rights granted vide the Development Agreement of 2008 in favour of KSL and Industries Ltd.

BEST also stated that Dhruvi Properties has no locus standi; much less any rights to be termed as the developer of the depot. "It has illegally registered the project on MahaRERA website and is selling flats/commercial structures to unsuspecting buyers," pointed out Nicolas Almeida of Watch Dog Foundation, who had also sought information under RTI.

Attempts made to contact both KSL and Dhruvi Properties did not yield any results.

BEST promises action
S R Potnis, chief engineer (civil) and public information officer, BEST said that the BEST has shared all information with advocate Pimenta and Sanjay Khachane, assistant general manager (civil) is overseeing the case. "We have initiated an inquiry into the matter and those involved will be stringently dealt with. We will seek clarity from KSL on this," he said to which another senior BEST official added, "We have been told by KSL that Dhruvi was the contractor but as per the tender agreement, they cannot appoint any such contractor."

However, Pimenta questioned Dhruvi's registration as the developer of the project if it claims to be a contractor. "Also, the agreement for sale given to my client indicates a tri-party agreement with Dhruvi Properties mentioned as vendor and KSL as the confirming party," he said.

'MahaRERA should have been careful'
Senior property lawyer Vinod Sampat said planning authorities are usually not bothered with the company developing the property. "MahaRERA should have been careful. It should now initiate suo motu action rather than waiting for the flat purchasers to point out deficiencies," he said.

Solicitor Stuti Galiya added that any sale agreement with flat owners ought to have been executed between BEST, developer and the concerned flat owner. "Dhruvi has no locus standi to enter into sale agreements with the flat purchasers. Any such agreement will be regarded as null and void. Flat purchasers too should exercise basic diligence and verify title and ownership documents before purchasing any property," she said, adding that if the BEST now refuses to recognise them as purchasers, they will have to bear the brunt and prepare for a very long journey to justice.

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