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Pune plot to Colaba flat, a common link

Mumbai, Oct. 31: Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, who has offered to resign over the Adarsh housing society scandal, has been accused of handing over tribal land to a builder friend whose son owns a flat in the Colaba high-rise.

A small-time Pune builder on Thursday filed a PIL in Bombay High Court asking it to overturn Chavan’s decision — taken in 2002 when he was revenue minister — to hand over 102 acres of tribal land worth Rs 1,000 crore to developers.

Ravi Barhate, the petitioner, said today that Chavan’s “gift” had benefited the chief minister’s close friend, builder Jayant Hiralal Shah.

Documents suggest that Shah is also a beneficiary in the Adarsh society scandal — his son Malav owns a flat in the high-rise at the centre of the controversy that has sent the chief minister scurrying to Delhi.

Chavan, in the capital now to explain his position before the Congress high command, was revenue minister when the decision to give the prime plot to Adarsh society was taken.

The land was allegedly meant for a six-storey building to house Kargil war heroes and widows that was later converted into a 31-storey tower through the collusion of bureaucrats, politicians and top defence officers who were allotted flats. Five of Chavan’s relatives were among the allottees.

Barhate, who claimed to have raised the matter of the Pune land with the media in February, said he decided to file the PIL after the chief minister’s name came up in the Adarsh society controversy.

Revenue department records show that the 102-acre plot in Shivaji Nagar near Pune was first given to the nomadic Ramoshi tribe to settle down by the British government as “watan” — or gift from a ruler to a subject for rendering some service.

“The land was held by Ramoshi families till 1950, when the collector cancelled all titles citing violation of lease terms. The land was with the government till 1961, after which a chunk was given to flood victims. Parts of the land were encroached upon by day labourers, and there were other stakeholders too. But the state government was still officially the owner,” Barhate said.

According to the revenue and forest department records, the property card mentions the Pune collector as the state representative. In 1994, the collector rejected a demand by the tribals to restore the land rights to them so that they could sell it.

When Chavan became revenue minister, he ignored the collector’s advice and allowed the sale of the land, Barhate said, claiming that the decision benefited Shah, who had the power of attorney.

Shah could not be contacted. Chavan was unavailable for comment but his personal assistant said the accusations were “politically motivated”.

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