Gilani panel slams NIT for tweaking norms in PU land allotment

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Sep 2018 10:25:54


Staff Reporter,

Asked to investigate into the irregular allotments by NIT, the panel submits its report to High Court

Justice (retd) M N Gilani on Wednesday submitted his probe report into allotment of 85 public utility (PU) plots by Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT) to politically influential persons, in a sealed envelope to Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court. Justice Gilani was asked to conduct probe into improper and irregular allotment of huge tracts of public utility lands situated in prime localities by NIT to prominent politicians and those close to power circle.

Sources claimed that Gilani panel had slammed the NIT for tweaking norms and allotting PU plots in most non-transparent manner without following Land Disposal Rules and to a chosen few without following any procedure. Though the report is yet to be shared with the parties, during course of probe, Justice Gilani reportedly scrutinised all the files very minutely and found shocking discrepancies in allotment of practically every allotment. In fact, he had personally verified the post-allotment use of every PU plots with the help of two retired judicial officers and found that in practically every case, there is brazen misuse of PU plot by the allottees.

During the hearing of the public interest litigation (PIL) based on 28-part The Hitavada expose submitted to the High Court by a vigilant citizen Anil Wadpalliwar about bunglings in NIT by its officers and trustees, a division bench consisting of Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Justice M G Giratkar opened the sealed envelope and perused the report for a while without disclosing its contents. Though Justice Gilani has refused to take any remuneration for work done, the High Court has asked parties to suggest appropriate remuneration to be paid to the ex-judge.

The High Court had appointed Justice Gilani for conducting probe into allotments of 85 public utility plots vide its orders dated October 4, 2017 and December 6, 2017. The High Court had not formulated any terms of reference for Justice Gilani panel and had observed that there was no need of terms of reference, because panel had only to give recommendations about element of propriety or lack of it in the land allotments. NIT initially resisted the appointment and even sought recall of the order harping on Navin Kumar probe panel report only to get a firm refusal from the High Court which made it clear that Navin Kumar panel report was not yet accepted.

It may be recalled that then NIT Chairman Dr Deepak Mhaisekar in his affidavit had admitted that some past and present senior officers of NIT were responsible for shady deals in allotting public utility lands and its subsequent misuse by political big-wigs to mint money.

The NIT Chairman after verifying all 85 files pertaining to PU plots in city reached to a prima-facie finding that “there are some lapses on the part of superannuated and present officers of Nagpur Improvement Trust.” In a cryptic affidavit filed before the High Court the NIT informed that initially show cause notices were issued to 19 superannuated and present officers and this number may vary in due course of time. According to sources, at least 44 officers and staffers handing key responsibilities during last two decades are under scanner and NIT Chairman has already prepared a list of these officers and staffers.

High Court took a very tough stance against total inaction by NIT against its erring staffers and officers responsible for PU plot scandal and had sought to know as to why no action was initiated against any NIT officer or staffer during last one decade.

Adv Anand Parchure (Amicus Curiae), Adv Makrand Agnihotri (another petitioner), Senior Counsel S K Mishra and Adv Mukesh Samarth (NIT), Adv Sudhir Puranik (NMC) appeared in the matter.

NIT officers under fire
NIT has issued show cause notice to its then Executive Officers M H Hedaoo, V K Trivedi, R K Pimple, A S Deshbhratar, S K Bapat, S B Zade, P M Bhandarkar.
Four top officials who were Executive Engineers- A K Gour, S U Deo, D M Sonwane and D R Gour have also been included in the list. Eight low rung officers including P S Raghute, B T Dongre, C F Dahikar and R N Samarth, R M Khapre (Section officers), M B Ganar, Sudam Valondre and J B Lohkare (clerks) too have been asked to show cause as to why action should not be initiated against them.
According to sources, such notices have been issued to at least 25 more officers and staffers handing key responsibilities during last two decades and whose roles are under scanner.

‘The Hitavada’ expose

The 28 part news-series published in ‘The Hitavada’ in 2004 had rocked the NIT and it was submitted to High Court by a vigilant citizen Anil Wadpalliwar and was treated as public interest litigation (PIL) and leading lawyer Adv Anand Parchure was named as Amicus Curiae. The series had badly exposed the murky affairs within NIT and how a powerful group of officers and then ruling party politicians gobbled prime plots, made mockery of development plan and were instrumental for haphazard development of Nagpur.

To avoid judicial probe, then State Government had volunteered to conduct an in-house probe and initially named Satish Soni to head the panel and later appointed one-man committee headed by then Additional Chief Secretary Navin Kumar to probe at least eight irregularities. From the beginning, the committee and its mandate turned out to be a non-starter and as expected the report turned out to be a damp squib. Amicus Curiae had sought rejection of this report dubbing it as “mere eyewash” aimed at exonerating all wrong-doers. Launching a blistering attack against Navin Kumar report, the Amicus Curiae had pointed out that instead of recommending any action against erring officers and trustees of NIT, Navin Kumar panel ended up with recommending regularisation of irregularities by safeguarding the officers of Trust, while accepting in principle that irregularities have occurred.

Navin Kumar panel had also confirmed that out of 325 public utility lands situated in prime areas, at least 85 allotments were made by tweaking rules and were found to be in absolute breach of then existing Land Disposal Rules and were offered as largesse by a powerful coterie of NIT officers to please their political bosses.

NIT repeatedly harped on steps taken pursuant to Navin Kumar report, but High Court tersely observed that “ This Court has still not accepted the report of Navin Kumar,” while mooting imposition of collective fine on NIT staffers and sought to know as to why a percentage of salary of present NIT staffers and officers should not be deducted and utilised for conducting the PU plot allotment scam.