Calcutta High Court has asked the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to state clearly what it plans to do with a plot of eight acres off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, after taking it back from the Taj Group of Hotels.
The directive, passed by a division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Jayanta Biswas on Friday, followed a public interest litigation by an individual.
The petitioner feared that the the civic authorities and a private firm — set to start a project soon on the plot — would damage the environment in the ecologically-important but fragile area off the Bypass.
Shaktipada Ghosh, CMC chief law officer and officer on special duty to mayor Subrata Mukherjee, confirmed receipt of the notice from the court and said the CMC had been set a three-week deadline.
He, however, added that the plot was to the west of the Bypass and the rules relating to the preservation of greenery were relevant to the eastern side of the 22-km stretch of road.
The plot of land has a chequered history. It was handed over to the Taj Group by the former Left Front-run board of the CMC on long lease in 1998 against a payment of Rs 10 crore. The plot, however, remained unused even after the Trinamul Congress-led board came to power and mayor Mukherjee sought a return of the land from the hospitality major.
The mayor, however, expressed his inability to pay the refund immediately after taking the plot back. He promised to pay back the Rs 10-crore sum after the civic body had finalised a deal with another agency.
The CMC floated an open tender. The highest bid it got was a staggering figure of around Rs 40 crore, officials said, but the bidder then, for some time, turned “unresponsive”. When finally traced, the bidder admitted his inability to pay the proposed amount.
It was then decided that the CMC would deal with the next-highest bidder, who promised Rs 15 crore. Besides the money portion of the deal, the CMC also decided to enter into a joint venture with the firm.
The project, which was due to take off soon, would have involved a housing scheme, a swimming pool and other entertainment-cum-cultural facilities.
Civic officials say the group with which the CMC is now dealing has a “certain amount of credibility”, as it has already launched several clubs and health resorts in the city.
The group may or may not involve other firms of its choice in the project, which — as it stands now — should cost around Rs 100 crore.
Civic officials said the public interest litigation was filed by advocate Tirthankar Das on behalf of his client. The CPM, now in the Opposition in the CMC, has raised the land transfer and utilisation issue at civic board meetings several times.