War homes scandal rocks Mumbai ahead of Obama trip
Corruption charges are swirling over a new apartment block in an upscale Mumbai district where homes meant for war widows have gone cheaply to politicians and military officers, embarrassing India’s ruling Congress party.
When first mooted, Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai’s tony Colaba area was supposed to be a six-storey building to house widows and heroes of a military conflict in Kargil bordering Pakistan in 1999.
But in its place has come up a 31-storey luxury apartment building, and most of the owners of its 103 apartments are top politicians, bureaucrats, federal ministers, two retired army chiefs and a former navy chief.
Some Indian media said three of the allottees were linked to the Kargil conflict.
Once the scandal was reported in Indian media last week, more news of what was described as violations of norms emerged, including ignoring of environmental clearance for the building in a neighbourhood by the Arabian Sea that is among the most expensive of real estates in the world.
Questions are also being asked about how land was transferred to the society and various government clearances granted.
Congress’ Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the top elected politician in Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is capital, offered to resign last week after media reports said his mother-in-law and other relatives had been allotted apartments in the building.
Underlining the scandal’s potential for damage, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, the country’s most powerful politician, has weighed in to the scandal, asking the defence and finance ministers to investigate any wrongdoing.
Gandhi has still not accepted Chavan’s resignation. At least two other former Maharashtra chief ministers’ names have also emerged in connection with the scandal.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony is expected to submit a report soon. The occupation certificates for the owners have been cancelled. Each apartment has been sold for as little as $130,000 while Indian media have estimated their value at $1.8 million apiece.
“Since the defence minister is … a person known for his probity, we should wait for the report to come out,” a Congress official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We will not shield any one who is found guilty.
Indian opposition parties have asked for investigations to find out how building plans were tweaked and who authorised the changes.
They have called for the resignation of Chavan’s government (see video below) and said the Congress had failed to check corruption, pointing to last month’s Commonwealth Games marred by allegations of graft and incompetence.