Demolish Adarsh building in three months: Ramesh

Adarsh Society was originally meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil War widows.

New Delhi/Mumbai: In a terse order, the
Environment ministry on Sunday directed the scam-hit Adarsh
Housing Society in Mumbai to demolish within three months
the "unauthorised" 31-storey building in upmarket Colaba for
violating coastal regulations and restore the area in its
original condition.

If the society failed to comply with it on its own,
"the ministry will be constrained to enforce this direction",
the order said.

The society meant to house families of Kargil martyrs
came under the scanner following reports that flats were doled
out to politicians, top defence personnel including two former
Army Chiefs and bureaucrats as well as their kin.

"The unauthorised structure built at Block-6, Backbay
Reclamation Area, near Backbay Bus Depot, Capt.Prakash Pathe
Marg, Colaba, Mumbai-400005, A-Ward should be removed in its
entirety and the area should be restored to its original
condition," the three-page order said.

In Mumbai, the Maharashtra government said it would
soon take a decision on the Environment Ministry`s direction.

"We will read the order issued by the Environment
Ministry on the Adarsh society and decide soon on what is to
be done," State Environment Minister Sanjay Devtale said to a news agency.

Counsel for the Adarsh Society Satish Maneshinde said
the order would be challenged in the High Court once its copy
was available.

He alleged that the contents of the order were
"leaked" to the media earlier this week while the order itself
was issued on a Sunday.

"I think it is totally malafide and we will challenge
it as and when we get the copy of the order," he said.

"Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society has violated the
very spirit of CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) Notification,
1991 by not even acknowledging the need for clearance under
this notification...Ignorance of law an never be an excuse for
non-compliance," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in a
statement posted on the Ministry`s website.

Accusing the society of "egregious" violation, Ramesh
said the Ministry had three options at its disposal --
"removal" of the entire structure, removal of that part of the
structure in excess of the floor space index (FSI) and
recommending the government to takeover the building for
public use which could be determined later.

"I have decided on Option I (removal of entire
structure). The fact that there may well be other cases of
similar violations provide no grounds for mitigation of the
penalty attracted by such an egregious violation as that by
the Society.

"Any other decision would have diluted the strong
precedents that have been set in judgements of the Supreme
Court and different High Courts," he said.

The Minister said Option II (removal of the part which
is in excess of FSI) was "rejected" since it would have been
tantamount to regularising or condoning an egregious violation
of CRZ Notification, 1991.

The option of handing over the building to the
government was "considered but rejected" because even though
the final use may be in the public interest, it would still
tantamount to regularising a violation of the CRZ
Notification, Ramesh said.

He said in case of a takeover there would also be
substantial discretionary powers that would vest with the
state or the central government.

The building has 103 flats of which 37 have been
allotted to defence personnel including two for families of
Kargil heroes and the rest going to civilians.

The Ministry`s final order is based on the report of
a panel led by Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Division
Advisor Nalini Bhat which said that Adarsh Society had not
obtained necessary prior clearance under the CRZ Notification
from Maharashtra government after obtaining necessary
recommendation from the state Coastal Zone Management
Authority.

Congress` Ashok Chavan had to resign as Chief Minister
of Maharashtra after it emerged that three of his relatives
were members of the housing society.

Also coming under scrutiny were three of his
predecessors - Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vilasrao Deshmukh (both
Congress leaders and now senior union ministers) and Narayan
Rane (former chief minister of the then Shiv Sena-BJP
government and now a state Congress minister).

They reportedly speeded up the proposals to allot the
prime plot for the building.

Names of former Army chiefs General Deepak Kapoor and
General NC Vij and Navy ex-chief Admiral Madhavendra Singh
have also cropped up as beneficiaries of the project launched
for the benefit of Kargil war widows. The three
later announced that they were surrendering their flats.

Terming the structure as "unauthorised", Bhat`s report
said the building be "removed in entirety" and the area
restored.

Defending the decision of the Environment Ministry,
Congress said it was based on available material data.

"This is a government order and a government decision
based upon reason material data in what might be called a
proceedings akin to a quasi judicial proceedings," party
spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.

The Adarsh society high-rise was constructed in the
posh Colaba locality of Mumbai, which is considered a
sensitive coastal area by the defence establishment and houses
various key establishments.

The Maharashtra Government had last week recommended
to Governor the suspension of state Information Commissioner
Ramanand Tiwari for his role in the Adarsh Housing Society
scam.

A member of the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission
Subhash Lalla had also resigned after names of two of his
relatives figured among the beneficiaries.

Questions were also raised on the manner in which
clearances were obtained for the construction of the building.

The Environment Ministry issued a show-cause notice to
the society on November 12, 2010, asking why the multi-storey
building should not be demolished for "violating"
environmental norms.

After three extensions, the Ministry at a final
hearing on January 4 sought a written submission by January
10. In its written submission, the Society demanded an
immediate end to proceedings against it, insisting that it had
got all the required clearances.

The Society had also slammed the "undue haste" shown
in the initiation of punitive proceedings against it and
"converting" their "meritorious case" into a "trial" by media.

The written submission had detailed the sequence of
events from 2000 when the steps were started for building the
society, including the "clearances" given by the Maharashtra
government and "no-objection certificate" by the Environment
Ministry in 2003.

"The allegations in the show-cause notice about the
building of Adarsh having been constructed without prior
clearance under 1991 notification is misplaced and incorrect,"
the submission had said.

The CBI has already stepped into the probe of top
bureaucrats and former service chiefs who were allotted flats
in the housing society.

The CBI has asked for documents from the Mumbai
collectorate as well as the Army and Navy and office bearers
of the Adarsh Housing society.

The Defence Ministry has already got reports from the
Directorate of Defence Estates and the Army. The armed forces
are feeling the heat after names of many retired and serving
officers have appeared in the list of beneficiaries.

The Society`s counsel Maneshinde said, "The tenor of
the order is completely malafide... unfair hearing... the
minister was bent upon demolishing Adarsh since the
beginning... we will challenge the demolition order."

Opposition leaders and social activists welcomed the
decision and demanded its immediate implementation.

"The Environment Ministry itself has declared the
building illegal and it has to be demolished. The bureaucrats
involved in the scam should also be punished because the
entire issue has brought shame to the State," Leader of
Opposition in Assembly and BJP member Eknath Khadse said.

Echoing Khadse, Shiv Sena MP Bharatkumar Raut said the
Ministry has taken a right decision and it should be
implemented.

Social activist Simprit Singh said, "We were raising
the same issue since 2007, but the State Government ignored
us. But after media pressure and public support, the
Environment Ministry has taken a right decision."

PTI