The Bombay High Court on Friday ordered demolition of the 31-storey scam-tainted Adarsh apartments in the heart of Mumbai and sought criminal proceedings against politicians and bureaucrats for "misuse" of powers, holding that the tower was illegally constructed.
However, on a plea made by the Adarsh Housing Society, a division bench stayed its order to pull down the building close to the sea at Colaba for 12 weeks to enable it to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, despite the Maharashtra Government opposing it.
In its order, the division bench asked the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest to carry out the demolition at the expense of petitioners (Adarsh Society).
The court also asked the Centre and Maharashtra Government to consider initiating civil and criminal proceedings against bureaucrats, ministers and politicians for misuse and abuse of power to get plots under the scheme, originally meant for Kargil war heroes and war widows.
Seen as a symbol of corruption, the Adarsh scam kicked up a huge poltical storm after it surfaced in 2010, leading to the resignation of the then Congress chief minister Ashok Chavan.
In February this year, the Maharashtra Governor accorded sanction to the CBI to prosecute Chavan under the provisions of the Indian Penel Code in the case.
When his reaction to the verdict was sought, Chavan said, "Unless I get it in my hand the copy of the order, I cannot comment on the issue."
The order was delivered in an open court by a bench of Justices R V More and R G Ketkar on a bunch of petitions filed by Adarsh Society challenging the demolition order of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and a title suit filed by the Defence Ministry claiming that it owned the land on which the 31-storey society building was constructed.
The court asked the Centre and state government to consider taking departmental proceedings in accordance with law against bureaucrats.
"The disciplinary authority shall take decision in accordance with law without being influenced by the findings of the high court," said the bench.
The bench placed on record its appreciation for the complainant Simpreet Singh, a member of National Alliance of People's Movement. "But for this intervention, perhaps the gross violation by the petitioners (Adarsh Society) would not have been detected," the court observed.
The court also asked the Adarsh Society to pay Rs one lakh as cost to each of the six respondents including Bharat Bhushan, Director of Ministry of Environment and Forests, Nalini Bhat, Advisor and Competent Authority, MoEF, Sitaram Kunte, former Commissioner of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and three others.
In its report, CAG had observed that "this episode of Adarsh Coooperative Housing Society reveals how a group of select officials placed in key posts could subvert rules and regulations to grab prime government land for personal benefit."
In 2011, the state government set up a two-member judicial commission headed by Justice J A Patil to inquire into the scam.
After probing the issue for over two years, it submitted its report in 2013, which found that there had been 25 illegal allotments, including 22 purchases made by proxy.
Apart from Chavan, the commission also indicted several leading politicians.
Later, the CBI, the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) also investigated the scam.
Acting Advocate General Rohit Dev told the court today that he was opposing the stay sought by the petitioner (Adarsh Society) to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
Adarsh Society had filed a petition in 2011 in the Bombay High Court challenging the demolition order issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Senior counsel Navroz Seervai, appearing for Adarsh Society, argued that there were no violations either of the rules or CRZ norms.
The Defence Ministry also filed a petition in the high court seeking implementation of its demolition order, besides filing a title suit in the high court claiming that it was the owner of the plot on which the plush Adarsh Society building stands in South Mumbai.
In January 2011, the union ministry of environment and forest had issued a demolition order mainly on the ground that the society did not have CRZ clearance.
The building still remains unoccupied and without electricity and water supply.
The court had in September 2015 started final hearing of petitions, including the one filed by the Adarsh society challenging demolition order of the Union Environment Ministry and plea of the Defence Ministry seeking implementation of the demolition order and a title suit of the plot's ownership.
In December 2015, the bench had reserved order after hearing all the parties.
Welcoming the order,activist Simpreet Singh, who had filed a complaint, said, "It has been a long journey, we started in 2006 by filing an RTI and now we stand vindicated.
The High court order is a welcome step", Singh told PTI.
The ruling BJP and Shiv Sena also welcomed the order terming it as "historic" while the Congress, which was haunted by the multi-crore scam, said the ruling has nothing to do with the party or its leaders.
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