Mumbai, Sep 9: Justice Jaynarayan Patel, senior judge of the Bombay High Court, may face prosecution for violating the Urban Ceiling Act (ULCA) in a land deal he transacted in Nagpur over four months ago.
The judge and his Shrinarayan and Harinarayan have not yet filed the mandatory return of their ancestral land in Nagpur's Chinchbhuvan, which they sold to a firm. It has been almost a month since the deadline given to them by the ULCA authority has elapsed, official sources said.
The ULCA authority sent Patels a letter on May 14, asking them to submit details of the property on the basis of which it could declare how much of the land was surplus as per the provisions of the law and how much was retainable. A reminder was also sent later, but neither of the letters has been replied to, ULCA sources said Sunday.
"The letters issued to me seem to have been lost in transit. I came to know about it quite late from my brother. We will file our reply and do whatever is required by law", Justice Patel told IANS.
Confirming that his office had issued a reminder letter to the Patel brothers on Aug 6 asking them to file land returns under relevant provisions of the ULCA by Aug 13, Nagpur additional collector U.S. Dahalkar told IANS that action would be taken as per the procedure laid down.
Justice Patel said he has not violated any law, that he did not receive any letter, and that he was ready to furnish any information and fully abide by the law.
The Patel brothers entered into an agreement on April 26 to sell 41.14 acres of their ancestral land to a Mumbai-based realty firm Hagwood Pvt. Ltd. through its director Nikhil Chaturvedi at the rate of Rs.25.50 million per acre to over Rs.1.5 billion.
The biggest land deal in Nagpur till date was hailed for its "transparency" as Justice Patel had insisted on transactions by cheque backed with bank guarantee, with no black money involved.
But it also raised eyebrows because of the exorbitant rate - at least five times the highest prevailing market rate - it involved. Nikhil Chaturvedi's brother Salil owns the leading garment brand Provogue.
Located adjacent to the land acquired by the government for the upcoming MIHAN (Multi-modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur) or cargo hub project and the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) being developed around it, the land in the area has seen mind-boggling price appreciation. But the going rate has still not crossed Rs.5 million per acre.
While Patels sought ULCA authority's permission to sell the land on May 9, that is 14 days after entering into an agreement with Hagwood, they had mentioned in the agreement that they were not restricted or restrained under ULCA provisions from selling the properties.
The judge said the Chinchbhuvan land did not attract the provisions of the ULCA as it had been reserved for commercial purposes, he said he was ready to surrender whatever portion of the land was declared surplus under the ULCA.
To a question whether he and his brothers would return the money to the buyer in case their agreement to sell the land was rendered null and void, Justice Patel said, "Yes, certainly", but added that it was a matter between the parties to the agreement.
The ULCA authority was apparently forced to issue notices to Justice Patel because of persistent queries made by Nagpur legislator Devendra Fadnavis under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Fadnavis also raised the issue in the Maharashtra assembly during its monsoon session.
While Justice Patel, who has earned fame as an upright judge through several landmark rulings, might escape prosecution for now by filing the land return and surrendering the surplus land, he certainly faces acute embarrassment.