Mumbai: An RTI query on Thursday revealed that a huge plot of acquired land here was allegedly ‘gifted’ to the Tata Group at throwaway rates by the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government in Maharashtra.
The land measuring 32,182.20 sq. metres was given to the Tata Group by the previous government shortly before it demitted office.
Prominent Right to Information (RTI) activist Anil Galgali has now demanded that Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis should order a probe into the matter and cancel the allotment as the land could have been used for housing the poor.
Giving details, he said the acquired piece of prime land in Borivali East, opposite the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, worth over Rs 3,000-crore, was allotted to Tata Group at dirt cheap rates.
“This acquired land could have been used for public or low-cost housing, but now it will be utilised for construction high-end luxury apartments. It is a good example of how land acquired from the poor is handed over to the rich,” Galgali said.
When asked for their response, a Tata Steel spokesperson said they needed time to study the matter before replying.
According to documents acquired by Galgali from the Mumbai Suburban District collectorate under the RTI, the state government had acquired the plot (32,182.20 sq. mt.) in the 1960s under the Land Acquisition Act.
It was meant for extending godowns and making residential quarters for the workers of the company, Special Steels Ltd, which was later taken over by Tata Steel.
In 2001, new owners Tata Steel sold a part of the land, 3,051.80 sq. mt. to a leading private builder for commercial and residential purposes.
However, Galgali said, in the process Tata Steel violated government rules which stipulated that before handing it over to any other party, it must take the government’s permission but it defaulted and sent a request to the collector only subsequently, seeking transfer of the property.
The government asked Tata Steel to return the land but when it appealed and ruling went in its favour, Tata Steel paid Rs 8.40 crore as ‘unearned income’.
Later, the company applied for transfer of the remaining 29,130.40 sq. mt. land to exploit it for residential and commercial purposes, ostensibly with help from government officials.
This was despite the fact that the government’s Committee for Land Acquisition had decided to reject any proposal for transfer from Tata Steel for purposes other than what was stipulated in the beginning, and approved by the then Congress government’s Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat.
The matter again went to Thorat in appeal but strangely, he overruled the earlier decision of the Committee for Land Acquisition and around 2014 allowed the transfer to Tata Steel which paid up Rs 44.98 crore.
“The land is worth minimum Rs 3,000-crore, besides the value of the commercial and residential construction on it which will be sold in the open market at current high rates. Tata Steel violated the provisions of the agreement and Thorat misused his status for a huge loss to the exchequer,” Galgali said.
He said in 2014, even if the government had allowed the change of user, there is no evidence that the company had paid the necessary fees for it, making it clear the land is being illegally developed for commercial gains, though both the collector and the revenue departments had given proposals to take it back.
After the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government assumed office, then Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse issued an order on November 21, 2014, that since the decision was taken by the previous regime just prior to the October 2014 assembly elections, it should be reviewed.
On February 20, 2015, the Konkan Divisional Commissioner scheduled a hearing in the matter of which no information is available on government records.
Accordingly, Galgali pointed out that since even the new government suspected it was a wrong decision by the previous government, Fadnavis must order a detailed probe into the case, put on hold all construction activities on site and take action against concerned officials.