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Peon, vendor ‘owners’ tumble out of Adarsh bag

Nagpur, Dec. 21: A peon, a driver, a vegetable vendor and a primary school teacher are among the owners of flats worth tens of lakhs in upscale Colaba, going by the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society’s documents and civic records.

Or they were just a cover for influential people who acquired the flats through benami deals, if the two-member judicial commission that probed the scandal is right.

The probe report claims 22 of the 102 flats in the 31-storey complex were acquired through benami transactions, though it concedes it has not been able to identify all the “real” owners.

Another 25 flats, it says, were bought by people ineligible to be members of Adarsh, because they already held flats in other cooperative housing societies or for some other reason.

Under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act 1988, a deal is benami if the person in whose name the property is registered gets part of the money used in its purchase from another but does not disclose this. The act allows the government to confiscate any such property.

The probe report says the money for each of the 22 benami deals was provided by a third party — such as a businessman or a politician, even a retired general — as a loan without interest or collaterals.

The 670-page report, tabled in the Assembly yesterday, opens a window for income-tax and other authorities to look into the alleged benami deals and their links with the “real” owners. However, the state’s Congress government has summarily rejected the report.

According to the panel, Nagpur-based San Finance Corporation is the real owner in at least five of the 22 allegedly benami transactions. The firm is run by Abhay Sancheti, uncle of BJP Rajya Sabha member Ajay Sancheti. San Finance is a sister concern of Ajay Sancheti’s SMS Infrastructure, of which Abhay is a director.

‘Dodgy’ deals

Here are a few instances of purported benami deals mentioned by the panel (all the details below are from the probe report):

One of the flat owners is Suresh Atram, a peon with SMS Infrastructure at Nagpur who also worked part time with another Nagpur firm. Together, his monthly income was Rs 9,000.

The panel, which questioned Atram, alleges that San Finance paid the Rs 59.5 lakh cost of the flat. However, it notes that Atram, who is from the Scheduled Tribe of Gonds, was eligible to be an Adarsh member.

Nearly 20 per cent of cooperative housing society flats have to be reserved for Dalits and tribals under government rules for land allotment.

San Finance is also alleged to have paid the entire cost of the flat registered in the name of Rajesh Bora, Abhay Sancheti’s brother-in-law. Bora’s flat (No. 1004 in “B” wing) adjoins another allotted to Sudhakar Madke, a driver with San Finance.

Madke had received an unsecured loan of Rs 60 lakh from the company, the panel says.

The panel says a Kolhapur-based builder, Umesh Shinde, is the real owner of two flats, registered respectively in the names of Raghunath Bhosale, a primary school teacher with modest earnings, and Vishwas Chougule, a teacher with the Bhakti Seva Vidyapeeth Society’s high school in Kolhapur.

Shinde is chairperson of the education society. The commission says the transactions for the adjoining flats, 1903 and 1904 in “B” wing, were benami.

Flat 2601 in “A” wing, registered in the name of Major Arun Pratap Singh, and flat 1302 in “B” wing, officially owned by Sheetal Vinod Ganju, were funded by Major General (retd) T.K. Kaul, an Adarsh member with a flat in his name (3001 in “A” wing), says the commission.

It alleges that Singh had received an unsecured loan from Kaul’s daughter Priyanka Lakdawala, and Ganju a Rs 70-lakh loan from her maternal aunt, Kaul’s wife Neelu.

Vegetable vendor Vishal Kedari’s flat (No. 802), with a carpet area of 650sqft, cost him Rs 59.1 lakh, the money advanced to him by four persons without any security but on an unregistered mortgage deed and promissory notes, says the commission.

The panel says Abhay Sancheti’s son Paramveer too has a flat in Adarsh despite being ineligible for membership of the society. Paramveer is a director with SMS Infrastructure.

According to the commission, which went through several old letters Adarsh had written to the government seeking a plot, the housing society’s original objective was to build a residential complex for retired or serving military officers who had no house of their own in Mumbai.

However, the panel says, the entry of civilians into the society and subsequent shady transactions defeated the purpose.

State secretariat officials say benami property deals are a huge racket in Mumbai. They say builders wangle prime plots for cooperative housing societies at cheap rates from the state government with the patronage of powerful politicians and the collusion of bureaucrats.

Influential people later acquire some of the flats through benami transactions. The flats bring them huge dividends when the prices rise.