Bengal housing scam comes back to haunt Gautam Deb, Jyoti Basu’s son
Deb, Jyoti Basu’s son Chandan Basu, and 16 others have been implicated in an FIR lodged on 2 April by the West Bengal Housing Board secretary Ajay Dutta. The complaint alleged Bengal Greenfield Housing Development Corporation Ltd - a joint venture with the state government – had bled the state exchequer of over Rs 20 crore for a housing project in Maheshtala.
The CID suspects that 45.69 acres plot of land in mouzas-Parui and Chakjot Sibrampur under Maheshtala municipality ward number 14– which was earmarked for a Mini Township Project named the Greenfield City wasn’t actually meant for the Bengal Greenfield Housing Development Company Limited in the first place.
The Housing Board’s choice was the Bengal IFB Housing Development Company. Bengal IFB later gave up the project to Salt Lake Estate & Credit Pvt Ltd. This then changed hands to Bengal Greenfield, which had Chandan Basu on its board.
The circuitous nature of cross-holdings is evident–Bengal Greenfield is actually a joint venture between the Housing Board and Salt Lake Estate & Credit Pvt Ltd. Chandan Basu is likely to be questioned in this connection by the CID after Deb.
The question that CID officers put to Deb was why he, as the chairperson of West Bengal Housing Development Corporation, chose a firm for a joint venture which barely had any real experience and dealt with kitchen appliances. In 1993, when the housing board entered into a memorandum of understanding with IFB, it chose to overlook bigger real-estate players like Unitech, IRCOM and Usha Constructions.
Deb’s answer to the CID, sources said, was a monosyllabic word, ‘prerogative’. Deb said, ‘They also harped on the public purpose clause. The question was how far the argument that a government body can hand over public land (government owned) to a private entity to further business interests. To this, I explained to the CID that the Supreme Court in a case involving Bengal Peerless had passed a detailed judgment on it.
The objective of such projects was to create low cost housing for the urban poor. Fifty per cent of the apartments broadly were set aside for economically weaker sections. Where else in Kolkata would one have bought flats for Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh? This is the public purpose.’
That promise however remained unfulfilled. While one hopes that the CID investigation will unravel more bitter truths about the housing scam, Roy feels that in Rajarhat, the CPI(M) government had erred more.
‘There have hardly been any open auctions in New Town. Large tracts of land were acquired by the CPI(M) government at low prices and sold to private players. Arbitrary distribution of land–negotiated between a single player and the government at below market prices was the CPI(M)’s modus operandi here,’ he said.