33 yrs later, 3 acquitted in SoBo plot ‘conspiracy’

MUMBAI: Thirty-three years after being accused of being part of a conspiracy of falsifying land records and attempting to sell a non-existent Colaba plot to prospective buyers, a special court on Saturday acquitted three persons, including a now 81-year-old man. Namdeo Mhatre, Deepak Tari (74) and Dilip Kodgule (77), acquitted for lack of evidence, were out on bail.

Developer Navinitlal Parekh (83), another person named in the FIR, registered in 1986, was discharged over a decade back. The state’s plea against his discharge is pending before Bombay high court. Tari had allegedly posed as someone else to sell the plot and Kodgule, a government employee, had allegedly tampered with government records.

The FIR stated that Anti-Corruption Bureau was probing tampering of records of the city survey department. Parekh, a developer, had allegedly offered to sell the plot through an agent, and showed him a file containing extracts from land records and other documents. The agent approached a builder, who referred him to his solicitor, to discuss the matter.

The solicitor was furnished copies of the documents pertaining to the land. ACB alleged that Parekh took the solicitor to the plot and assured him that it would be demarcated, and proper boundaries created. The solicitor searched for the plot’s entry in the city survey register, and finding it there, was satisfied. The investigating agency alleged that the sham entry was made by Kodgule, then a draftsman in the city survey office. Later, when the solicitor insisted on the presence of the plot owner to seal the deal, Parekh claimed he was out of town, and he had the authority to make the deal. But with the solicitor’s insistence, the deal fell through.

While the chargesheet was submitted in 1990, the trial commenced in 2007-08. Advocate Rajendra Shriodkar, assisted by advocate Archit Sakhalkar, appeared for the trio and submitted that there was no evidence against the accused. It was also submitted that there was no evidence to show that Kodgule was a draftsman at that time. The defence pointed out that 17 original documents, including the “development agreement”, were lost and could not be produced in court. The defence submitted that as the “development agreement” never got registered, there was neither monetary gain for the accused nor monetary loss to the government.

Mhatre, booked for his role as a broker, was not in court on Saturday due to advanced age and medical issues. In February, the court, while taking into consideration his health, allowed the defence plea to exempt him from appearing in person to give his final statement under section 313 of CrPC. The section is a legal provision to meet with principles of natural justice, which allows an accused to personally give an explanation to circumstances in evidence against him. The court directed that a questionnaire be given to his advocate and it be returned with answers by the accused, with an authenticated affidavit that the answers were given by accused.

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