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IRB scraps township project off Mumbai-Pune E-way

By Abhay Vaidya

IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd, which is under investigation for its alleged involvement in the sensational January 2010 murder of RTI activist Satish Shetty, has virtually scrapped plans to develop a mega township near Kamshet off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

Company spokesperson Manoj Chaudhari told Firstpost.com in an interview in Pune on 22nd May that there had been no progress on the township project and that the project had been virtually scrapped.

Screengrab of IRB website

“We have not developed anything at the site. Nothing will be done till this case (Satish Shetty murder) comes to a close,” Chaudhari, chief of IRB’s corporate communications, said when asked specifically about the status of the township project that was announced in 2007.

Prior to his murder in 2010, the Talegaon-based Shetty (38) had used the RTI Act, 2005, to unearth a major land scam in the Maval taluka of Pune district in the vicinity of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

He had accused IRB Infrastructure and its subsidiary Aryan Infrastructure Investment Pvt. Ltd. of grabbing government and private lands in the Taje and Pimploli villages by forging documents and manipulating land records. A police complaint was also lodged with the Lonavla police station.

Subsequently, the Land Registration Department was forced to conduct a probe and cancel more than 90 sale deeds, many of them involving Aryan. An inquiry was initiated against Lonavla sub-registrar of land registration, Ashwini Kshirsagar who was suspended in 2009. Coincidentally, many of the allegedly fraudulent land acquisitions by the IRB subsidiary were in the Taje-Pimploli villages which were cancelled.

Stating that IRB had been acquiring land from farmers since 2007, Chaudhari admitted that some land transactions in Taje and Pimploli villages involving the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) were not in order and blamed brokers and agents for misleading the company.

“There was a problem with just three transactions and the moment we realised that we had wrongly acquired some government lands, we at once cancelled those sale deeds,” he said.

About the proposed township he said, “We had ambitious plans to develop a mega township on 1,400 acres of land. It was to include IT parks, a business complex, a sports complex, residential and recreational facilities. There were plans for a cricket stadium too like the new Sahara stadium that you see in Pune. This plan now stands virtually scrapped,” he said.

Chaudhari said the company has not constructed a single column at the site and everything on the township front is at a standstill.

IRB, in its IPO prospectus in September 2007, had announced plans to develop a mega integrated township at Mauje Taje and Mauje Pimploli villages in the Maval taluka of Pune district.

Describing the project as its first real estate venture, the company had stated that the project was in its preliminary stages of planning and development with land reserves of 751 acres and plans to acquire additional 649 acres for the township. Updated information on IRB’s website states that the company's land reserves consists of approximately 1,200 acres of land at these two villages and it intends to acquire an additional 200 acres for the township project. This information does not match with the statements made by the company spokesperson.

As a part of its investigation into the Shetty murder case, the CBI secured judicial permission on 3rd May  to conduct a lie-detection polygraph test on IRB’s chairman and MD, Virendra Mhaiskar and IRB officials Deepak Gadgil (head of real estate) and Jayant Dangare (head of liasoning).

In a prompt communiqué to BSE and NSE, IRB on 3rd May said that although the late Satish Shetty's brother had named various persons, including Virendra Mhaiskar as a suspect, the Maharashtra police department had conducted a thorough inquiry in the matter and given a clean chit to Mhaiskar.

The clarification said that Shetty's brother was not happy with the investigation conducted by the Police Department and upon his petition, the state government handed over the investigation to the CBI. During the course of the investigation, the CBI had, along with several other persons, asked Mhaiskar and two other company officials to undergo a polygraph test.

"Mr Mhaiskar and the company officials have readily agreed to undergo the polygraph test since they are confident of their non-involvement in the matter," the clarification stated. Chaudhari said that the polygraph test was yet to take place and could happen before this month end.

When asked about the company’s association with NCP president Sharad Pawar who is a token shareholder in IRB, Chaudhari described Pawar as a family friend of the Mhaiskars and nothing more.

IRB has seen a meteoric rise in just a decade since inception as DVJ Leasing and Finance Pvt Ltd in 1998. Having constructed more than 2,000 km of highways, it now ranks among India's leading infrastructure companies in the road construction and toll roads sector with projects across the country.

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