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AJL misused National Herald Bandra plot

After RTI activist Anil Galgali exposure Gautam Chatterjee committee appointed by CM Devendra Fadnavis to probe misuse of the land allotted to Associated Journals Limited (AJL) submitted its 20-page report in the case to the principal secretary of the revenue department, Manukumar Srivastava.

AJL National Herald-AV

The Congress, which owns AJL and the now-defunct National Herald newspaper, was constructing a commercial building on a plot of 3,479 sq m in Bandra, off the Western Express Highway, instead of building a research centre dedicated to Nehru — for which it had been allotted the plot in the first place. Prime land allotted to M/s Associated Journals, the holding company of the Congress Mouthpiece the National Herald and Qaumi Ekta newspapers was granted a waiver of interest charges to a tune of Rs 2.78 crores accrued due to delayed payment for land allotment. The company is now currently contracting an 11 storeyed building at the land. This information was provided to RTI activist Anil Galgali. This company belongs to the Gandhi family and the interest was waived during the tenure of Adarsh fame CM Ashok Chavan causing loss to the exchequer.

While AJL had said it would require 11,000 sq ft in basement and 9,000 sq ft on top of the building, it is in reality constructing on over 83,000 sq ft, a majority of which is for commercial usage, the report states. This is in contravention of a government resolution (GR) that states one can use no more than 15 per cent of the area for commercialisation to cross-subsidise the project. The panel asks the government to see if AJL requires more than 20,000 sq ft now. If it does not, then the government has to take a decision on the extra space of over 60,000 sq ft, the report states. Probe panel’s report says additional land was allotted to AJL in 1983 itself, despite opposition from then addl collector, and again in 1990. Despite the violations, it is not feasible for the government to reclaim the land parcel now, as it would lead to a legal battle, the report advises.

Significantly, the inquiry committee has found that it was not a onetime allotment. An additional 823 sq m area was allotted to AJL on November 4, 1983, despite opposition from the then additional collector, and an adjoining plot of 191 sq m was allotted in November 1990. The probe report stated that the additional land allotted to AJL was set aside to house government offices as well as a hostel for backward-class students. “The collector could have prevented such misuse of the plot,” the committee noted.

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