The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has unearthed a major land scam in Faridabad (Haryana) adjoining Delhi where illegal construction of a multi-storied building was allowed on a protected and notified prime forest land for selling office spaces valued at ₹182.56 crore.

In its latest report tabled in Haryana assembly, the CAG said the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad allotted land notified under Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, which is preserved and protected with prohibitions of non-forestry activities, to private real estate company Godavari Shilpkala Private Ltd.

The 9.43 acres of land wasbought by the company in two attempts of 5.5 acre and 3.93 acre, respectively. It was developed under the name “Pinnacle Business Tower”.

“Audit observed a trail of illegalities starting from the land allotment to the developer by the MCF (Municipal Corporation of Faridabad) in the PLPA notified area; abetted through sanction of building plans for commercial office space in contravention to the CLU agreement; facilitating through issuing of forest NOC on the PLPA notified area by an officer not authorised to do so and culminating into illegal execution of conveyance deeds at the officer of the sub-registrars, Faridabad and Badkal,” the CAG summed up on the gross irregularities committed to benefit a private firm.

Considering the seriousness of the attempt to usurp forest land, the CAGrecommended the Haryana government to take action against the developer and public servants. It also suggested the auditors recover the compensation amount from the developer and officials pay the investors.

Last month, the Supreme Court had rejected Haryana government to amend the PLPA since the legal framework protected the Aravalli range, which is key to environmental protection in the Delhi’s satellite town of Gurugram and nearby areas.

Tracing the roots

The real estate developer got a no-objection certificate for change in land use by director of Town and Country Planning, Faridabad on March 12, 1992. This was for the 5.5 acres or 44 kanals of land stretch situated in Lakkarpur village, Surajkund of Faridabad. Subsequent to change, it was to be used for “recreational, cultural and hotel complex,” but the land was categorised originally in revenue records as “non-cultivable hills, said the CAG.

Two years later, in November of 1994, Godavari Shilpkala requested for allotment of additional 3.93 acre parcel of land, which was stretched in three pieces adjoining the 5.5 acres, for the purpose of “parking, landscaping and expansion of 5 star hotel”.

In May 1995, after approval from the state government, the MCF allotted the land at ₹20 lakh per acre along with additional external development charges, despite documents not being given to auditors.

“Though the change in land use clearly stipulated the site shall not be sub-divided under any circumstances, the building plans were sanctioned by the MCF and also granted Occupation certificate in contravention of the terms of allotment,” the CAG noted indicting the then Haryana administration.

The allotment and CLU for 3.93 acre did not permit construction but the developer’s mutli-storied building plan was illegally sanctioned by the MCF on November 6, 2007 for a period of two years. The occupation and completion certificate for a 16-storey tower having nine floors for commercial offices, three for halls and two for car parking above the ground, apart from basement, was given by the MCF on April 7.

The auditors computed the value to ₹ 182.46 crore, after putting together rates per square feet for commercial spaces notified by the authorities.

The conveyance deed was executed on August 28, 1995, despite it being illegal, insisted the auditors. The zoning plan of the complete CLU 9.43 acre was issued on November 19, 2006 by the MCF commissioner- allegedly ignoring the laid down laws.

Unravelling the scam

The CAG report points out another attempt by the MCF to hoodwink the law process. On complaints of illegal conveyance deeds in December of 2020, a district municipal commissioner issued show cause notice to the developer on March 25, 2021. In the absence of any reply, the commissioner ordered the sealing of the Pinnacle Business Tower due to contraventions in the use of land, subdivision of land, and illegal sale of building.

To the surprise of the CAG, when the audit party carried out a joint physical verification of site along with MCF officials on December 2021, they found that Pinnacle Business Tower was not sealed, according to the report.

After examining 40 conveyance deeds and other records of sub-registrar offices at Badkhal and Faridabad, the auditors realised that three of them were not even signed. Similarly, there was no reference to subdivison of land, which was another shortcoming allowed to pass off by the officials.

“The enforcement wings at the MCF as well as the department of town and country planning had not taken any action against the illegal construction carried out for a period more than nine years,” said the auditors.

Top Haryana government officials, such as principal secretaries of urban local body departments, the forest department, and the financial commissioner of the revenue department defended previous decisions.

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