Defence min may take over scam-hit Mumbai complex

NEW DELHI: Stung by the embarrassing scam in which retired military brass connived with Maharashtra bureaucrats and politicians to corner a prized piece of property in Mumbai’s tony Colaba — all in the name of Kargil war widows — the defence ministry and the army chiefs have decided to come down like a ton of bricks and are considering invoking the Defence of India Rules (DIR) to take over the property and call in the CBI to probe the scandal.These two options have been considered at the highest level in meetings between the defence ministry and the army brass where the Adarsh housing society scam, whose lid was blown off by TOI on Monday, was discussed at length. There are indications that the army brass is veering around to a takeover of the 31-storey complex and put it to military use. The promoters would, however, be reimbursed their cost.Sources said the army headquarters has already recommended a CBI inquiry into the scam. The recommendation came in response to a query from defence minister A K Antony. “Since we do not have the legal standing to inquire into the conduct of the state government departments, we believe the CBI must look into how the entire manipulation happened and the guilty must be punished,” a source said to explain the army’s unusual readiness to be probed by an outside agency.

The recourse to DIR rules will mark an unprecedented step. Framed by the British to deal with challenges to their Empire, the rules have seldom been used since the Emergency in 1975. It is ironical that the rule is being dusted off to deal with a scam allegedly involving leaders of armed forces, politicians and bureaucrats who connived to misappropriate the land they got the army to release for war widows.But DIR is seen as justified given the enormity of the embarrassment and the fact that the armed forces, normally zealous in guarding their turf, are okay with the idea of a CBI probe because, apart from retired military officers, several others are involved in the land grab, including officers of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and Brihanmumbai Muncipal Corporation.

Sources said Antony has made it clear that the scam will not be swept under the carpet. On his instructions, the MoD has sought the army’s response to the disclosure by TOI. The army headquarters has quite a task on its hand. The officials dealing with the issue have to reckon with the fact that the beneficiaries of the scam include two of its former chiefs, one former vice chief, one southern army commander and at least four officers who headed the MG & G Area (Maharashtra, Gujarat & Goa) in recent times.

All of them own apartments in the complex. The grim mood in the headquarters coupled with Antony’s resolve indicates that the current leadership may not flinch from taking tough measures to repair the damage to military image.The navy has its own share of embarrassment, with a former navy chief, a former chief of the western naval command and another senior admiral featuring among the flat owners in the housing society – TOI