Mumbai: After three different press conferences where he claims to have outed corrupt politicians, today it was Arvind Kejriwal’s turn to be judged. Retired police officer and lawyer-activist YP Singh said Mr Kejriwal had repressed a “mega-scam” starring Sharad Pawar and set in the controversial hill town of Lavasa, being built near Pune over 25,000 acres at a reported cost of 3,000 crores. Mr Pawar has denied allegations of wrongdoing.
Mr Kejriwal yesterday said that BJP president Nitin Gadkari had grabbed 100 acres of farmers’ land in collusion with the NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra.
The real scam, according to Mr Singh, was executed by Mr Pawar and his family with land that had been acquired for an irrigation project in Maharashtra. The Irrigation Minister was Ajit Pawar, the nephew of Sharad Pawar. More land than needed had been acquired from farmers. Mr Singh says that a Supreme Court judgement makes it obligatory for the government to either use this sort of surplus land for public projects, or to auction it.
Instead, he alleges, in 2002, a company named the Lake City Corporation got 348 acres on a 30-year lease for Rs. 23,000 a month. “A tiny one-bedroom flat in Mumbai costs more to rent,” the former cop said. The reason that the government was so generous with this deal, he said, is because Mr Pawar’s daughter Supriya and her husband Sadanand Sule held 20 per cent stake in the company. Ramesh Kumar, an IAS officer was then Principal Secretary of the Revenue Department, which keeps records of all government-owned land. He allegedly asked for an inquiry into the transaction. However, Mr Singh claims, then Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, also from Mr Pawar’s party, shunted the inquiry.
In 2006, Mr Singh says, Ms Sule and her husband sold their stake in the company that would morph into the Lavasa Corporation. He says that in 2009, when Ms Sule was obliged to declare her assets as a Member of Parliament, she said she was worth 15 crores. The activist says she blatantly misreported the facts because Axis Bank had evaluated the Lavasa Corporation at 10,000 crores, so her 10 per cent stake (and another 10 per cent held by her husband) would have been several hundred crores. He described this as “a huge money-laundering exercise.”
Mr Singh says that Lavasa reaped more windfalls. In 2009, he says Sharad and Ajit Pawar ordered senior bureaucrats to meet them at a guesthouse within the Lavasa premises. There, they ruled in favour of a request from the Lavasa Corporation which allowed the firm to add several floors to its building plans. Essentially, the Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) and other rules were relaxed so that Lavasa could build much more than usually permitted. These concessions were recorded in the minutes of the meeting, he alleged. “How did Sharad Pawar hold a meeting with Maharashtra officials in the Lavasa guest house? He was Union Agriculture Minister; what jurisdiction did he have?” he asked.
“Everything was done according to policy,”said Mr Pawar, refuting charges that he intervened in the Lavasa project because his daughter and her husband once owned stake in the company building the township. “The chief minister made me responsible for project since it was in my district. What’s wrong with that?” asked Mr Pawar, whose Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) co-governs Maharashtra with the Congress.
Lavasa had been taken to court in 2010 by an NGO for violating the terms of its environmental clearances. It was forced to stop construction till it was given conditional permission in November to proceed with its plans.
Mr Singh accused Arvind Kejriwal of focusing on a ‘lesser scam’ and being selective about which politicians he targets.
Mr Singh described Mr Kejriwal, with whom he once worked closely, as resembling Hitler; he also said that Mr Kejriwal’s estranged mentor, Anna Hazare “appeared to have a soft corner” for Mr Pawar.
Mr Singh said that Mr Kejriwal and he had jointly pieced together the Lavasa swindle more than two years ago. He said he was compelled to go public today because Mr Kejriwal had failed to expose Mr Pawar. Instead, “he came up with a damp squib…a very frivolous allegation,” said Mr Singh, referring to the allegations levelled yesterday by Mr Kejriwal against Mr Gadkari.