Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Friday directed the Union environment ministry to demolish the 31-storey scam-tainted Adarsh housing society building in the heart of Mumbai, close to the sea in Colaba, and told the government to begin criminal proceedings against the politicians and bureaucrats involved in sanctioning the illegal construction. It also imposed a fine of `6 lakhs on the Adarsh society.
On a plea by the Adarsh society, however, a division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Rajesh Ketkar stayed its order to pull down the building for 12 weeks to enable it to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, despite the Maharashtra government opposing it. The demolition, it said, should be done at the expense of the Adarsh society.
Seen as a symbol of corruption, the Adarsh scam kicked up a huge political storm after it surfaced in 2010, leading to the resignation of then Congress CM Ashok Chavan. In February this year, the Maharashtra governor had given the CBI sanction to prosecute Mr Chavan under the Indian Penal Code in the case.
Justice Ketkar pronounced the ruling at 3 pm Friday, directing the “Union of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests, to forthwith demolish the Adarsh building constructed by the petitioners at the expense of the petitioners”. Reading out the order passed by both judges, he said: “MoEF and the state shall consider initiating appropriate civil and criminal proceedings against the concerned bureaucrats, ministers and politicians in accordance with the law... for committing various offences in acquiring the subject plot and also misuse and/or abuse of powers.”
The court clarified the concerned courts shall decide the case on the basis of evidence on record without being influenced by observations/findings made by this court.
The court also asked the state government to take over the land (CTS No. 652) at Colaba, where the society stands.
It directed the society to pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh each to six respondents, including Bharat Bhushan (director, MoEF), Nalini Bhat (adviser and competent authority, MoEF), Sitaram Kunte (former BMC commissioner) and three others.
The BJP and Shiv Sena welcomed the high court’s order, terming it as “historic”, while the Congress, haunted by the multi-crore case leading to the resignation of Ashok Chavan as CM, said the ruling has nothing to do with the party or its leaders. “This is a historic decision by the high court. This is the first time the court has ordered the demolition of the building, almost 30 years after Pratibha (a housing society off Warden Road) was demolished. This is a heavy blow to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Now (ex-CM) Ashok Chavan will have to face and answer more tough questions as he had given the required sanctions,” BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari said.
When his reaction to the verdict was sought, Mr Chavan said: “Unless I get it in my hand the copy of the order, I cannot comment on the issue.”
Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant said his party will continue with its legal battle to prove the innocence of its leaders. “The Congress Party and our leaders have nothing to do with the demolishing of the building. The matter is between the petitioners and the high court.” However, former Union minister Milind Deora tweeted: “Adarsh verdict sends a strong message to bureaucrats & ALL political parties: the days of profiting from government land are long gone.”
The high court passed the order while hearing a bunch of petitions, including one filed by the society members, that challenged the 2011 MoEF order to demolish the tainted society. The ministry had on January 16, 2011 directed the society to demolish the unauthorised building within three months for violating coastal regulations.
The high court also directed the defence ministry to consider taking departmental proceedings in accordance with the law against bureaucrats. The bench said: “The disciplinary authority shall take decisions in accordance with the law without being influenced by the findings of this court.”
The housing project, on prime land in Mumbai, was meant for the welfare of war veterans and war widows. Several influential politicians and bureaucrats allegedly subverted the rules for their own benefit or that of close relatives to take advantage of the scheme.
The high court had in September 2015 started the final hearing of petitions, including one filed by the Adarsh society, challenging demolition order passed by MoEF and a petition filed by the defence ministry seeking implementation of the demolition order. In December 2015, the high court bench had reserved orders after it heard all the parties....