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Luxury housing dies in turf war.

AT a time when ' ease of doing business' is the new buzzword, a big- ticket project for luxury as well as affordable housing has remained stuck for nine years because of a land ownership war between the Delhi government and the Centre.

The Supreme Court will now on August 28 hear the matter. The judgment, as and when it comes, will be crucial as it will settle the debate who owns the land in the Capital.

The Delhi Development Authority ( DDA) under the Union Ministry of Urban Development owns much of the land but the Delhi government's forest department is supposed to protect a large chunk of the forest area, often resulting in a conflict.

DDA allotted the 14.3 hectares of land in a posh south Delhi area for its first PPP housing project to a private developer in 2006. The plan was to build 750 luxury flats and also 3,500 houses for the poor. But the Delhi government's forest department said the site was morphologically part of the protected Ridge.

A frustrated Kenneth Builders and Developers in 2009 moved the Delhi High Court and sought cancellation of the project tender and return of ` 450 crore it gave to DDA for the land. DDA won its battle against the Delhi government the next year as the court admitted the land use of the site was ' residential'. But the court also ruled that the Capital's largest land owning and developing agency would have to refund the ` 450 crore that Kenneth Builders and Developers had deposited in case a ' consent to establish' from the Delhi government's pollution watchdog ( DPCC) was not forthcoming.

" The state or any statutory body is not expected to deprive individuals or businesses of their money without authority of law," the court had said.

DPCC had earlier asked DDA to stop the project as the site was part of the Ridge. Interestingly, the project always had the environment clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. And the high court also said that DPCC could only deal with issues of air and water pollution; it could not meddle into matters of land use and zoning.

The DDA in 2011 moved the Supreme Court as it feared paying back to the developer, a subsidiary of Indiabulls Real Estate Limited, and blamed the Delhi government for delay in the grant of ' consent to establish'. The Delhi government has also joined the legal battle in the Supreme Court, reiterating its stand that the site at Tehkhand village was morphologically part of the protected ridge.

" In 2008 our forest department received complaints about illegal cutting of trees at the project site. We inspected the area and found it was part of the morphological ridge which has to be protected as per a Supreme Court order," said a Delhi government official.

DDA however rubbishes Delhi government's claims.

" We prepare Delhi's master plan. We changed the land use of the site from ' district park' to ' residential' by inviting objections. The Delhi government or any other authority did not say a word then. The High Court has fully supported our claim," said a DDA official.

The High Court did say that once the master plan which has a statutory flavour shows the land in question as earmarked for a particular use then no other authority can challenge the same.

In the turf war between the two governments, the developer kept suffering. " In 2008 itself because of the said suspension of work, the developer was incurring huge losses on account of idle manpower and equipment," the HC said in 2010. The developer had sought the money back when there was virtually no chance of the project taking off.

DDA allotted the 14.3 hectares of land in a posh south Delhi area for its first PPP housing project to a private developer in 2006.

The Supreme Court's judgment will be crucial as it will settle the debate who owns the land in the Capital

THE CASE

2006: Developer win DDA auction, deposits ` 450 crore 2008: Delhi govt objects, says the site is part of the Ridge DDA says land is not part of the Ridge; deal with the firm is valid Delhi govt asks DDA to get the work stopped till a settlement is done DDA asks for Delhi govt's green clearances; nothing happens 2009: The developer moves HC, seeks its deposit money back 2010: HC says deal valid, but DDA will refund only in case of delay DDA says it's not at fault, moves SC against HC's refund clause 2011: Delhi govt reiterates before SC that land is part of Ridge What's next: The apex court will hear the matter on August 28 THE PROJECT At Tehkhand in south Delhi, next to Kalkaji Extension, Nehru Place and Okhla. The plan was to build 750 swanky apartments, 3,500 houses for poor in 14. 3 hectares.

The firm got the land at ` 450 crore in 2006. Work was to begin by March 2007 and end by June 2008.

DDASTAND DDA makes Delhi's master plan. When it changed land use to ' residential' the Delhi govt did not utter a word then. Its plans have a statutory flavour, cannot be challenged by any other authority.

HC says DDA has a final say on land usage pattern in the city.

HC ORDER The Delhi HC in its 2010 order said the land was residential and not part of the Ridge. It also said if the Delhi government's pollution watchdog does not give its ' consent to establish" DDA will refund the ` 450.10 crore with six per cent interest.

FIRM'S TAKE It said that it trusted DDA and took the land in 2006 assuming its title will not be disputed. But Delhi Forest Department officials visited the site and cautioned them against carrying out any activity.

In 2008, because of the suspension of work, the firm incurred huge losses.

In 2010, it moved HC seeking back its money.

GOVT'S SIDE In 2008, we received complaints about illegal cutting of trees at the project site. On inspection, we found that the site was morphologically part of the protected Delhi Ridge.

The Delhi Pollution Control Committee had not given its consent to establish the project. Prior approval of SC was required for undertaking any construction activity in the area.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Aug 24, 2015
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