Even after objection raised by the state Revenue and Finance departments, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra, led by Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray, allotted a 51-hectare land worth Rs 10 crore to Sharad Pawar led Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) at a nominal rate.
While authorising the proposal, the Thackeray Cabinet gave short shrift to the objections voiced by the state’s Revenue Department and the Finance Department and disregarded an opinion submitted by the state’s Advocate General’s office.
The piece of land in contention, located in Maharashtra’s Jalna, was initially acquired by the state’s Agriculture Department for a state seed farm. According to the state communique, the market value of the plot was pegged at Rs 10 crores.
However, the land was sanctioned to the VSI, a public trust formed by cooperative sugar barons in 1975, to expand its educational and research activities. NCP chief Sharad Pawar is VSI chairman while the sitting Maharashtra ministers Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Excise Minister Dilip Walse-Patil, Finance Minister Jayant Patil (NCP), and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat (Congress) are among the Board of Trustees of the VSI. In addition, two other ministers Rajesh Tope (NCP) and Satej Patil (Congress) are on its governing council.
Since then the Revenue department has opposed the allocation of the land on concessional rates, quoting a 1997 Supreme Court verdict which said that the land acquired by the government for a specific purpose should be used for that particular purpose or for other public purposes and if this cannot be done, the land should be returned to the original owners. Both Revenue and Finance departments have questioned if the activities carried out by the VSI can be considered for “public purposes”.
The Finance department also stated that the plot should only be allocated at market rates after inviting bids. The Uddhav Thackeray government has also ignored state Advocate General’s opinion in this regard and asked the Revenue department to seek consultation from the law department and append conditions before allocating the land.