Amid allegations that the Congress party gave an interest-free loan to Associated Journals Ltd with an eye on the company’s real estate assets, it now emerges that the company that publishes National Herald and Quami Awaz was allotted a prime plot of land by the government of Maharashtra in suburban Mumbai, ostensibly for a press and a Nehru memorial library, neither of which was built.
While a large part of the plot remains vacant after being allotted in 1983, one portion was parcelled off in 2000 to a housing society floated by Congressman Rajiv Chavan in which former Mumbai Congress chief Kripashankar Singh is a member.
This land, facing the Western Express Highway and a stone’s throw away from Bandra station, is now home to Sai Prasad Housing Society, home to Singh, Chavan and a bunch of top bureaucrats some of who already owned other properties in the city and some others who are under the scanner in the Adarsh scam.
Activist Anil Galgali, who used the Right to Information Act to obtain details about the plot on which Sai Prasad building stands, has now written to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan demanding that Associated Journal Ltd’s land be taken back by the government.
“The plot was given for daily news publication, a Nehru library and a research centre in 1983 but it is still as it is. The government should take the land back and build a hostel for students (Scheduled Caste) for which it was originally reserved,” Galgali’s letter dated November 2 says.
Not only did Associated Journals not construct the press building and library, but it also managed to obtain repeated extensions from the state government while continuing to hold on to the 30-year lease, which now expires next year. Also, sources said the company owes a sum of over Rs3.76 crore to the state government in unpaid lease rent.
When a part of the plot was allotted to Sai Prasad, Singh was guardian minister for the Mumbai suburban region.
“Will you as chief minister be able to initiate proceedings for the state government to reclaim land that is now under the control of Rahul Gandhi? There is a question about this,” Galgali has said in his letter. He goes on to say that the market value of the land is now about Rs1,000 crore.
While Congress spokespersons have said the AICC loan to Associated Journals was given for “emotional” reasons and with a view to revive the newspaper started by Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s, the Bharatiya Janata Party has alleged that the company Young Indian, which now controls Associated Journals has its eye on the latter’s considerable real estate assets. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the main shareholders of Young Indian.