Mumbai, Feb 26 (PTI) The Bombay High Court on Saturday refused to pass any order on the permission granted for the Lavasa hill station project but opined that exertion of influence and clout by Nationalist Congress Party [NCP] chief Sharad Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule on the government machinery led to its development.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni disposed of a public interest litigation [PIL] filed by advocate Nanasaheb Jadhav seeking to declare the special permission granted by Development Commissioner (Industries) to develop Lavasa as void, arbitrary, unreasonable, undue political favouritism, breach of trust and bad in law.
The court in its order noted the Lavasa Hill Station project was the brainchild of Pawar . “The crux of the petitioner’s case, as can be gathered from the factual narrative above, is that the Pawars, by reason of their political standings, are very powerful and influential people, and it was the political clout and enormous influence exercised by the Pawars on the government machinery that led to development of the Lavasa Hill Station Project,” the court said in its decision.
The court noted in its judgement that all with a view to give shape to Pawar’s dream project of Lavasa, it cannot be said that exertion of influence and clout by Pawar and Sule is an unreasonable inference
NCP chief Pawar, his daughter and Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Sule, and his nephew and Maharashtra deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar were added as respondents in the PIL. However, only Ajit Pawar filed an affidavit in reply.
In the absence of the unrebutted allegations, the court observed, “We are left to judge the veracity of the allegations on tests of probability without anything more substantial by way of answer. Shri Sharad Pawar and Smt. Supriya Sule being personally interested in the project of the hill station, it is proved by preponderance of probability that the allegations are true.”
The PIL sought the quashing of the special permission granted to Lake City Corporation to purchase land for private hill station Lavasa.
The court also upheld the validity of amendment to Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Land Act, by which retrospective permissions were given for its development.
Although the Act was amended in 2005, the clearance to the project was given in 2002.
Ajit Pawar was the Minister for Irrigation and ex-officio chairman of the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation [MKVDC] at the relevant time, and he was a part of the meeting which granted clearance to the proposed dam that would aid in water supply to Lavasa.
As far as allegations of favouritism by Ajit Pawar are concerned, the high court noted it was his ‘solemn duty’ to disclose his personal interest in the matter. “As the Minister for Irrigation and holder of a Constitutional office by virtue of which he was the Chairman of MKVDC, it was the solemn duty of Shri Ajit Pawar to disclose his direct or indirect interest in the matter,” the court said.
The court also took note of the fact that no tender was issued for the same before awarding the contract.
That there was a failure to follow a fair and transparent procedure consistent with Constitutional norms and ethos is also clearly noticeable, it said.
The bench said government as well as public bodies are trustees of the powers vested in them by the people of India, and “it is thus their paramount duty to discharge the trust reposed in them by acting in a manner that sub-serves public interest best”. “With a deep sense of pain and remorse, we feel compelled to take judicial notice of the malaise of looting in India and its natural resources by its own people in the recent past. The roots of such malaise have, without doubt, set in deep,” the court said.
The country is faced with a situation where uprooting of this malaise seems to be difficult, if not possible, it added.
The court noted that Jadhav has shown a serious concern and commitment to take up the cause involving some powerful respondents in his PIL.
However, due to the delay, no relief could be granted, the court said. “We feel a ‘judicial hands-off’ approach is perhaps best suited in the present case having regard to the intervening delay between alleged acts of violation of Constitutional guarantees and institution of this public interest litigation,” it observed.
The court also said it has been almost more than a decade that Lavasa has come into existence and considering that none of the farmers had challenged it, it would not be unreasonable to assume they were/are happy and satisfied with whatever bargain they were able to make.