Adarsh: Probe deeper, party later


Far from self-congratulatory reporting and hype over much-delayed arrests, internal paper-trail reveals that the Adarsh case yet again needs media’s sincere attention, as much as it did back in 2010 (if not more)

The Adarsh society building in Colaba, Mumbai. Photo courtesy: The Indian Express
The Adarsh society building in Colaba, Mumbai. Photo courtesy: The Indian Express

As this is being typed, the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) tally in the Adarsh society case stands at seven. The fact that these arrests took place within 48 hours for a case which was registered over a year ago and just before a belligerent Bombay High Court (HC) was to hear it, goes to say something about the conduct of the agency. Notwithstanding the jubilation in the media over ‘impact’ of their respective ‘exposes’ (read arrests), recent communication accessed by the author actually paints a very grim picture, aided by what seems to be willful inaction.

Feeling singed at this is none less than the Indian Army. Represented by the Southern Command’s Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa (MG & G) area HQs in Mumbai, it is this formation of the army which is taking on the society. Certainly a section of retired officers, including two chiefs of the army and one from the navy, saw no harm in a 31-storey private society coming up at a point where from the entire station’s activities can be monitored (and relayed live). However today, for reasons well known, from the desk of the highest office in this country and downwards to most in our billion-plus population, Adarsh is an anathema.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for action to happen.

Forced to remind

After observing, corresponding and waiting for almost two years, the army seems to be on the edge, having achieved little. Faced with a shrinking number of options, in an unprecedented move, the army was forced to knock the doors of the Maharashtra state’s Environment department to remind them of the Adarsh-demolition order of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), passed in January 2011! The said order was to be executed within three months. So as to secure a stay on it, the society flew in top lawyers from New Delhi however till date there is no injunction on its execution. But there is silence, there is inaction.

Communication accessed shows that on November 29, 2011, Col. R Moitra, Staff Officer (SO) (Land) for the General Officer Commanding (GOC), wrote to Valsa Nair Singh, Secretary, Environment department, Maharashtra government. After quoting the above-mentioned facts, Col Moitra wrote, “Since the court has not granted any stay order and three months have elapsed, you are requested to take necessary steps to implement the demolition order..” The army then made it clear, “…the building is a threat to the security of Colaba Military Station.”

A month later, another letter with a similar mission to the same recipient went from the army’s side on December 24, 2011.

Finally on January 2, 2012, the secretary responded. Far from soothing the frayed nerves, the response added newer layers of the tape which made the army see red. “The Department of Environment has sought legal opinion from the Dept of Law & Judiciary,” it said. Before concluding, the letter advised the army to ‘also take up’ the case with MoEF. More than two months after this letter, a senior official of the state environment department revealed that the Law and Judiciary department has sought some more clarifications.

Sitting inside the Colaba-based office, with the skeleton of Adarsh society literally hanging on his head, a senior officer in the headquarters sounded exasperated. “It is unbelievable! They are seeking further time on an order passed more than a year ago, which even the court did not stay,” he added.

A perusal of this mentioned order (available online at: http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/Adarsh%20final-order.pdf) goes to show that while the society was to itself demolish the building within three months, it was the MoEF which had to act, if the society failed to. As of today, neither the society nor any of the ministries have acted. And the army is running from one desk to other, reminding them of their job.

Apart from approaching the state environment authorities, it was learnt that army had initiated communication even at the MoEF’s level. But it was not clear when this move was made and what it has achieved.

Approaching the Bombay HC

There is another route too which the army tried to explore. In a communication addressed to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) on June 10, 2011, in possession of the author, the army sought the demolition of Adarsh building on security grounds. The two-page letter written by Col SS Kale Col Q (Land) for the GOC, outlines the army’s concerns in five well explained points, Terming it no less than a ‘serious security threat’, the document says that the location and height of Adarsh society, “can directly interfere with military activities even with hand-held small arms weapons.” It goes on to list the vital installations that the Adarsh building overlooks and how defence authorities have repeatedly raised security concerns barring the times when the decision makers were also members of the society.

Before calling for a demolition, the letter warns, “Threat perceptions have undergone a sea change during the past decade due to rise in terrorism. Revelations by David Coleman Headley clearly show terrorist’s design to target defence installations which can provide huge publicity to terrorists.”

To analyse the actual threat from Adarsh, a few months ago the army tasked its Pune-based Bombay Engineering Group (BEG) with the job. Using  laser range finders, the BEG submitted a survey which revealed that the entire top brass of the MG & G area can be wiped out in no time by sniper fire utilising the viewpoint and ease that the society building offers. The survey revealed that the HQ of MG & G area lies within 196m of Adarsh, Infantry officer’s mess within 61m, Fuel, Oil and lubricants depot within 27m and supply depot within 268m. They can all be easily targeted from the building as the range of even an ordinary sniper rifle is 800m.

The MMRDA nullified it all on June 30, 2011. “Since the matter is sub-judice and under investigation, MMRDA can take actions only on receipt of specific directions from the High Court (HC) or from the Government,” wrote D Sampathkumar, chief, Town and Country Planning division. For the record, it was the same agency which over-ruled the army and navy’s plea of not granting the society an Occupation Certificate (OC) until fulfillment of security concerns. By doing it, MMRDA almost helped society inhabit the building in September 2010.

Facing reverses even on this front, last month, the MG & G area HQs, filed a writ petition in the HC seeking a demolition on security grounds. “Since 1989, our senior officers posted in Mumbai have highlighted the importance of the area where Adarsh stands. Immediately before and during the time the building was being built, most men who could object, unfortunately, fell for the flats in the building. Yet, some officers kept highlighting the threats but those who had to act had bargained their positions for real estate,” said an army officer concerned with the case.

Presently, the army authorities are awaiting their petition to be listed in the Bombay High Court for its maiden hearing.

Commission of inquiries?

To seek answers on a number of issues emerging from the Adarsh saga, the Maharashtra government had appointed a commission of inquiry by a notification dated January 8, 2011. Led by its chairman, Justice JA Patil (retired) and member, P Subrahmanyam, the commission has already been given three extensions with its term ending on May 31, 2012, pending fourth extension.

The state government, which maintains that the land where the society stands belongs to them, has been awaiting the commission’s findings but was finally forced to write to their office on February 18, 2012. This submission, accessed by the author, states that, “..the next session of Legislative Assembly is in the month of March 2012. Therefore, in the interest of justice the Applicant (Maharashtra government) submits that..this H’nble Commission may submit its report on Reference no 1 and 2” (No 1 pertains to the title of the land on which the building stands and no 2 relates to whether the land concerned was reserved for any class of people). Essentially, the Maharashtra government was seeking an interim report so as to counter opposition charges that the state had put the issue on the back-burner.

As of today, the arguments from the state government as well as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have been wrapped up. Now, the commission’s own counsel is summing up. “Once that is done, the commission will certainly need time to evaluate these arguments and come up with a report. Nobody can say how long will the commission take to arrive at a conclusion on the points that the state wants answers on,” an officer of the commission said.

It is nobody’s case that the arrests are not important however, what is equally important is to maintain a hawk-eye on implementing decisions and addressing the urgent necessities. Question is, is anyone listening?

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2 thoughts on “Adarsh: Probe deeper, party later”

  1. Having stayed in the vicinity of the building before the “Adarash” structure came up one can beyond doubt conclude how serious is the security threat to entire defense establishments around it.Hope High Court comes down heavily to implement Ministry of Environment orders to demolish it with out delay despite all out efforts to prevent it by interested parties.That’s the only way out of the muddle created even it is harsh one to set an example for future such incidents.

  2. After going through the report, it seems prima-facie that hidden efforts have succeeded to prevent the structure from being demolished at any cost. One should not be surprised by the stand of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) as the concerned Ministry or the babus responsible for executing the decision may be under duress or mercy of some political master.

    The structure would continue to stand tall staring at every objection to its existence unless something drastic happens forcing the babus and authorities to act.

    That is how unfortunately our country functions…..That is how unfortunately we the people of India are habituated to see changes…Our laws are made after incidents…. Our laws are amended after tragedies….

    A country that fails to respect its servicemen fails as a country….

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