After nealry 2 months of deliberations, the environment ministry under Jairam Ramesh order the 31-storey Adarsh Co-operative Society building to be demolished. The final order, issued on Sunday, found the Society guilty of “negligence or an act of gross and deliberate misrepresentation” in failing to secure environmental clearance for their building.
The order also found PV Deshmukh, the former deputy urban development secretary in the state guilty of issuing a false letter to Adarsh involving a “total distortion of facts” and “misrepresentation.” Deshmukh’s name later figured in the list of flat-owners in the Colaba building.
According to the final order, signed by Advisor Nalini Bhatt, the Adarsh scam was primarily based on a crucial letter issued by Deputy Secretary PV Deshmukh on March 15, 2003. In the letter, Deshmukh said that the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) “had communicated their no objection to allow the said residential development” under the Coastal Regualtion Zone (CRZ) Notification of 1991. Based on the letter, the Society managed to get many of the other clearances and permits.
“Relying on the above letter the project proponents obtained some clearance from the Urban Development Authority. This absence of intent on the part of the project proponents to approach the MCSMA or to determine if the CRZ clearance has indeed been properly obtained is plainly evidenced by the complete lack of any further steps by them.. this act of the project proponent is either an act of negligence or an act of gross and deliberate misrepresentation. Neither interpretation exonerates the project proponents..,” Bhatt said.
Nalini Bhatt held both Deshmukh and Adarsh equally guilty — the first for having issued the ‘false’ letter and the second for using a letter from the Urban Development department as environmental clearance when the law clearly spelt out the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) as the competent authority for issuing the clearance. She pointed out that it was the responsibility of the Adarsh Society to ascertain which department had the right to issue CRZ or Coastal Regulation Zone clearances.
“MoEF is not aware of any Government Order or instruction of Government of Maharashtra which authorize any Department other than the [state] Environment Department.. to issue clearances under the CRZ Notification.. Further clearances obtained based on the incorrect letter of Urban Development Department are invalid and should be withdrawn by all concerned agencies,” she went on.
She also found Deshmukh guilty of trying to keep the MCZMA, the legitimate body for issuing clearances in such cases, out of the loop intentionally. “It is not also clear as to why the Urban Development Department had not forwarded such a proposal [as Adarsh], if and when received, to the MCZMA as had been done by it for other cases which require the CRZ clearance..,” she wondered as she ordered the Adarsh plot to be restored to its previous condition after the building is torn down.
In his comments, Jairam Ramesh said he had considered a government takeover of the building, but was put off by the possibility of “substantial discretionary powers” that such a move will put into the hands of bureaucrats, many of whom are already implicated in the scam. It is alleged that the plot, originally with the Defence forces, was acquired by a group of individuals in name of building apartments for Kargil heroes and subsequently parcelled out amongst corrupt bureaucrats and politicians and others.
“The fact that there may be other cases of similar violations provides no grounds for the mitigation of the penalty.. ignorance of the law can never be an excuse for non-compliance,” he said in his notes on the order.
The ministry also refused to make a distinction between ‘authorized’ and ‘unauthorized’ construction within the project. “In cases where no clearance is obtained the illegality obviously vitiates and extends to the entire structure.. the issue cannot be resolved by separating the illegality from the main structure as the entire structure is in violation,” Bhat said in her order.
Adarsh is now expected to seek a stay in the courts.