The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mukesh mansion on shaky ground
- Questions about orphanage land transfer hit Ambani’s Rs 100cr dream home

Mumbai, July 6: Mukesh Ambani’s Rs 100-crore dream home plan, said to be the world’s most expensive city mansion, is under the shadow of a land-transfer controversy.

“The project (house) is coming up on Wakf land meant for an orphanage. It was transferred by corrupt Wakf board officials who, it seems, were enticed into selling the land illegally for a sum much lower than the market value,” Maharashtra Wakf minister Anees Ahmed said today.

The minister accused the officials of tweaking land-use rules of the Khoja Currimbhoy Orphanage Trust, which holds the land. Sale or transfer of such properties is forbidden under the Wakf act, though a lease is allowed if the board approves the deal through a unanimous resolution.

“The sale to Ambani is illegal. The board wasn’t informed. Nobody, however rich and influential, will be spared if he is found to have played around with Wakf property and norms,” Ahmed said, without naming anyone.

The revenue department has also questioned the sale, and asked the board to launch an inquiry. “We have asked the divisional commissioner of Aurangabad, where the Wakf board is based, to conduct a special audit of the board’s transactions. A showcause notice has also been served on board chief M.A. Aziz, asking him to explain the illegal transactions,” additional revenue secretary Neela Satyanarayan told The Telegraph.

Earlier this week, the board issued notices to Antilla Commercial Pvt Ltd, asking the Ambani company to explain within seven days why the 4.532sqm plot — located on Mumbai’s upscale Altamount Road — should not be taken back. Muslim organisations met Ahmed today and demanded a probe. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said the CID will examine the matter, if necessary.

But, as the notices went out, some doubts have emerged about the ownership. “We have sought legal opinion from the advocate-general on who really owns the land, Ambani or the Wakf board. Advice will also be taken on a few other Wakf properties,” Satyanarayan said. Four other land deals made by the board are under the scanner.

Reliance Industries has declined to comment so far but a source close to Ambani said the dispute was between the government and the Wakf board. But he did not say how government permission was secured to change land rules. “As far as I know, the land was sold to Antilla as the Khoja trust could no longer afford to run the orphanage there.”

According to Wakf records, Ambani acquired the land in 2002 for Rs 21 crore and later paid another Rs 17 crore, taking the total to Rs 38 crore. The plot was estimated to be worth at least Rs 50 crore, the minister said.

But board chairman Aziz — who, like the minister, is a Congress MLA — accused Ahmed of being enmeshed in a shady land deal revolving around his wife’s trust.

“In 2003, Ahmed had used his authority as the Wakf minister to transfer 1.75 acres to the Mehemuda Shiksha and Mahila Gramin Vikas, a trust registered in his name and run by his wife. He had paid only Rs 1,763 for a land that was worth Rs 4 crore. He had promised to vacate the land later, but has not done it so far,” Aziz said.

He defended the Ambani deal, saying the decision was taken by the orphanage trust. Aziz claimed the Mumbai charitable commissioner, too, had approved the transaction in 2002. But the government said the commissioner has no powers to take decisions on properties under the Wakf board.

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