Millennium Post

Land leased to Leela group: Are you in cahoots with people who don't pay, SC to Centre

That corporate biggies manage to get prime properties at throwaway prices using their powerful political connections is nothing new. The Supreme Court was on Monday livid with the Centre for trying to help top hoteliers- the Leela group hold onto a prime plot of land near the Mumbai airport.

The Apex Court even went on to ask the Central government whether it is "hand in glove" with people who do not pay.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar called it "very unfortunate" that the Centre was "still making requests" and had not gone ahead to effectively retrieve the money. The bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana, was hearing a petition by 'Resources of Aviation Redressal Association', which had pleaded the court to order the auctioning of an 18,000-square-metre plot leased to the Leela Group.

According to the PIL moved in Bombay High Court, the hotel initially paid a "paltry sum of Rs 2.2 lakh" as lease for the prime plot near Mumbai airport. The HC disposed of the plea last year by observing that issues of public auction could not be determined in a PIL, prompting the group to take it up with the country's top court.

When the matter came up for hearing on Monday in the apex court, the counsel appearing for the Centre and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) sought an adjournment, stating that an Additional Solicitor General (ASG), who was supposed to argue this case, was not available in Delhi. "Tell ASG that the Union of India has been playing tricks with us," the bench told the Centre's counsel.

"The first affidavit you filed was without mentioning the dates. In the second affidavit, you only gave the history of the litigation. We told you we are not interested in your history but tell us why did you lease it out to someone who does not pay? You filed your third affidavit on February 2, and you again gave us the history. What do you think this court is?"

It asked, "You have given 18,000 sq metre to someone who does not have money, and still you don't seek to recover the amount? Are you hand in glove with them? Are you hand in glove with people who don't pay?"

Informed that the lease, valid till January 2016, has now been terminated, the bench retorted, "You say the lease has been terminated, but have you taken possession (of the plot)? How are they still occupying this plot? Are you with him? You have allowed him the possession even after termination of the lease." Clarifying that the government will have to come clear on the lease and recovery of money, the bench said the case will next be heard on February 20.
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