Temple accuses Maharashtra minister's wife of land grab

Land-grab controversies continue to dog the Maharashtra government. After  chief minister Ashok Chavan has got embroiled in 'Adarsh' scam in Mumbai, his revenue minister, Narayan Rane, is in the dock. A temple trust in Mahabaleshwar, tracing its origins to the reign of Shivaji, has taken Rane's wife Nilima to the Bombay high court, claiming that land belonging to the trust was sold to her.

A division bench comprising chief justice Mohit Shah and justice Dhananjay Chandchud deferred the hearing till after the Diwali vacation, but directed that no development should be carried out on the land in the meanwhile.

The Shri Mahabaleshwar Devasthan Trust has claimed that over 20,000 sq ft of its land in a prime area of Mahabaleshwar was sold to Rane's wife after changes were made in the property records by a desk officer in the revenue department, which is headed by Rane. "The beneficiary of the order (making modifications to the property record) by the revenue department is the wife of the minister for revenue, and this leads to an irresistible conclusion that the decision was vitiated by mala fide intentions," said advocates Nitin Jamdar and Vijay Killedar, lawyers for the trust.

The trust claims that its origins can be traced to 350 years ago, when Shivaji made one of his ministers, Moropant Pingle, the manager of the lands. In 1931, following disputes, the high court had set up a trust to look after the affairs of the 'inam' land - property bestowed on the temple trust by various rulers including Shivaji.

According to the petition, last year the trust found out that changes had been made in the property records. Two acres of land were deleted from the list of inam lands in the trust's name in June 2008 and a Vasai resident, Mahesh Panchal, was shown as the owner of the land. Of this, around 20,000 sq ft was then shown as sold by Panchal to Nilima Rane. The revenue department ratified the sale.

Advocate Jamdar claimed that the trust was not given any notice before the changes were made in the land records. Any changes in the inam land records can be made only after permission from the charity commissioner, which was not done in this case, said the advocate.