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Nagaland complex Kolkata: Rio hits back, denies unfair dealing

By Our Correspondent Updated: Sep 21, 2018 1:16 am

Kohima, Sep. 20 (EMN): The final day of the 13th monsoon session of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly witnessed the former chief minister and present Leader of Opposition TR Zeliang alleging that Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio was involved in unfair dealing with regard to Nagaland Commercial Complex in Kolkata. Zeliang had claimed that Rio was the Home minister then.

However, the chief minister clarified in response that when the deed was signed between the state government and Civil Engineer Enterprise Pvt. Ltd (CEEPL) on December 24, 1997,  he was the PWD minister (from 1993-97) and not as alleged. Rio reprimanded Zeliang not to make baseless allegations or engage in blames.

Appreciating the opposition for taking interest in raising an issue which concerns the entire state, Rio       suggested forming a joint parliamentary committee comprising both ruling and opposition members, to pursue the case in the court. However, he said that the decision was up to the members of the House.

He was responding to a series of starred questions raised by Zeliang related to the Nagaland commercial complex, or the Nightingale building, in Kolkata. Zeliang had, among others, wanted to know why the state government did not challenge the interim order of the Calcutta High Court of May 14 2018 and whether the ‘government already encashed the two Cheques of INR 35 lakh and INR 7 lakh or are those cheques still kept under the custody of DRC, Kolkata?’

According to Rio, the lease deed with regard to Nagaland Commercial Complex at Shakespeare Sarani road, in Kolkata was ‘manipulative, heavily disadvantageous, unfair and unjust.’

It was informed that that a court case GA no. 486 of 2018 CEEPL Vs State of Nagaland pertaining to Nightingale Building was still being heard and that the state government had already filed a counter-affidavit on July 16, 2018.

Giving a history on the Nagaland Commercial Complex, Kolkata, Rio informed that on January 29 1997 a Cabinet meeting was convened to discuss the commercial complex, and subsequently on February 17 1997 the Cabinet sub-committee, according to documents that were made available, discussed in detail the strategy to be decided, how the interest of the government and the people would be protected and how maximum rent can be obtained from M/S Engineers Enterprise. It also discussed the legal implication with regard to West Bengal Tenancy Act; and consulted with the advocate general of Nagaland.

The committee met with S Ghosal of M/s Engineers Enterprise in Kolkata and made an agreement. According to the report of the technical team that was submitted on May 12 1997 with three more co-opted members, the total measured area of the Nagaland Commercial Complex at Kolkatta was 13,735.93 Sq metre, which included one 11-storey building, one 4-storey building and one sub-station building.

Following the report, the lease deed was signed on December 24, 1997, wherein the then chief secretary, AM Gokhale, advised the advocate general of Nagaland to withdraw all cases pending with M/s Engineers Enterprise in the Calcutta High Court. The lease was effective from January 1 1998 for a period of 20 years, which expired on January 1 2018.

The terms and conditions of the lease include among others, that the lessee shall pay INR 5 lakh per month on or before 7th day of every succeeding month; allow the lessee to enjoy 1500 sq ft space, free to use the premises for business purpose/sublet without any reference to the ‘lessor’ and to use entire complex premises as collateral security to public financial institutes/agencies, and national banks.

Realising that the lease deed was heavily disadvantageous and the state have not benefitted out of this property, on July 26, 2013, Home Commissioner Temjen Toy proposed that the leased out portions of the Nagaland property at Kolkata may be disposed off to interested buyers at prevailing market rates so that the government would get at least some benefits. Therein, the chief minister has on August 12 2013 directed pursuing the case.

He informed the house that a committee that was constituted on the matter made a recommendation on March 16 2013 and proposed to consult an advocate from Kolkata who was an expert in Bengal Tenancy Act. The file was put up to the chief secretary on April 1 2014 which was then ‘endorsed’ to the Home commissioner and chief minister on April 10 2014. (The file has no record of the Home commissioner and CM seeing the file).

The file, he said, was reactivated and sent to the chief secretary on February 11 2015. However, the contention of the Justice & Law department was that the Tenancy Act 1997 was not applicable to the central government or state government/govt. undertakings/enterprises; that the lease agreement between the state government and the CEEPL does not fall under the purview of the Act.

Consequently, on January 23 2018, the state’s Home commissioner wrote to S Ghosal, MD of CEEPL reiterating the ownership of the Nagaland property at Kolkata and to accept the monthly rental of INR 2.2 cr. stating that it would be “unfair, unjust, illegal and unconstitutional for state government to allow continuation of exploitation of public asset for commercial gains and profit of a private party.”

Again on February 7 2018, the Home commissioner wrote to Ghosal that non-compliance of the lease deed agreement conditions would render it liable for eviction and that cheques/draft on part payment would not be acceptable, stating that “any payment of part rent without first signing the fresh lease deed agreement is not acceptable an thus the cheque of the meagre amount of INR 7 lakh had already been returned to you by DRC Kolkata.”

Through this notification, the state government has also directed Goshal to appear to sign a fresh lease deed without further delay.

However, the advocate general of Nagaland on August 11 2018, advised that, according to the court’s interim order dated May 14 2018, the rent from January 2018 payable till date be accepted “without prejudice to our rights and contention.”

By Our Correspondent Updated: Sep 21, 2018 1:16:08 am