Is Mr. Dinesh Afzalpurkar, Chief Secretary of Maharashtra Government, lying when he said that it was “unanimous decision” of the Bombay Port Trust (BPT) trustees to rent prime office premises to Ms Kiran Choudary in south Bombay at throwaway price? More to the point, what exactly happened on the day when Mr. Afzalpurkar in pre-determined farcical drama decided to “accommodate” Ms Kiran Choudary allegedly at the behest of Mr. Jagdish Tytler?
Papers now available with The Hindustan Times of the crucial meeting where Ms Choudary received her manna from heaven, portrays a sorry tale of the manner in which the BPT functions. It also shows to the manner in which any presiding bureaucrat (read chairman) stage-manages crucial trustees’ meeting and takes partisan decisions involving cores of rupees of taxpayers’ money without a whimper of protest from the majority of the trustees.
On July 27, 1993, it was the fag end of the meeting that matters pertaining to “allotment of office accommodation on lease basis” were taken up. Some 19 trustee’s members (the exact figure is yet to be confirmed) had been given approximately 500 page agenda and relevant documents to wade through prior to the meeting.
“Naturally, nobody goes through such documents. Even if we go through it, what is point? We are mere rubber stamps. All of us know that decisions are already fixed. So we generally nod”, revealed a leading industrialist to The Hindustan Times about how the meeting proceeded.
During the course of that “lazy and sultry” afternoon meeting, it was carefully emphasised to the trustees that Dy Chairman (Mr. Pandey who has also been included in the FIR filed by CBI) “had carried out a detailed study of the requirement space and had concluded that office accommodation available with BPT is more than adequate and liberal”
It was also emhasised by the Chairman while seeking the board’s sanction that ” allotment of rooms from 35 to 36, Imperial Chambers to M/s Kiran Choudhary and Co., advocates, on lease of 30 years” should be given skirting “auction procedure” as in norms. In BPT, auction is a procedural norm, which is necessary so that BPT get the highest rent in the market. In case of Choudhary, auction was done away with.
Mr. Afzalpurkar stressed to the board members that “allotment of the accommodation would provide logistic support to enable them (Choudhary) to function effectively as BPT legal retainers”. To buttress his point. Mr. Afzalpurkar added: “in accordance with Dy Chairman’s assessment BPT does not require additional office space than what is occupied today. The offices need to reorganize themselves.”
At this point, one of the alert trustees pointed out that in the background note, the area of the rooms was shown 510 sq. feet. The chief engineer, who was called in, clarified that the two rooms together will be measuring 1000 sq. feet.
It was at this juncture that one union member and trustee. Mr S. R. Kulkarni, objected to Mr. Afzalpurkar’s proposal to appoint Ms Choudhary as the new solicitors instead of Mullah and Mullah Solicitors who had been effectively representing BPT for 20 years. “I do not agree with your proposal. The changeover from reputed firm of solicitors has been made without competent sanction. No solicitor of any standing would request his client for office accommodation. Grant of space in the present case would lead to requests from other consultants, which BPT may not be able to fulfill if excess accommodation was available. Let the board discuss the over all policy”, pointed out Kulkarni.
Lending him support, Dr Shanti Patel, union member and also a trustee in BPT, added that the existing policy of allotment by auction was a “sacred one”. Dr Patel added that the board should not take individual decision making it vulnerable.”
Not to be outdone, Mr. Afzalpurkar had his defence ready. He pointed out to the trustees that while the principle of auction was correct in the overall view, it depended only on financial position with the result allotment could be to persons having no connection with the BPT.
Springing to his support, pliable trustees immediately backed him up.
The list of trustees (many of them handpicked without having any locus standi Transport) who supported Mr Afzalpurkar is indeed long. Some of them came up as pearls of wisdom like Mr. N.D.Gupta who said the space should be given to Kiran Choudhary and Associates because “firm could set up a good library and other facilities.”
What is indeed sad about resolution No.430 passed by the BPT trustees on 27.7 1993 which gave right to Kiran Choudary and Co to occupy prime BPT office at pittance was that voice of dissent by Mr Patel and Mr. Kulkarni was stifled. The rest of the trustees, some of them eminent businessmen and industrialists, did not even bother to lodge a protest when they could have.
When The Hindustan Times contacted many of these leading industrialists like Mr B.B.Dubash, Mr A.S.Kasliwal, etc most of them were not available for comments on their role in the dubious sanction. On the other hand, a leading industrialist who has tremendous cloud and is well connected to who’s who of India at first said that he was not sure whether he had attended the meeting.
With this kind of indifferent attitude adopted by trustees of a premier agency like Bombay Port Trust, is it of any surprise that the likes of Ms Choudhary allegedly backed by Mr Tytler manage to go places?
By Ketan Narottam Tanna