PDA govt firm on ending over 3-decade sell out agreements
Like the story of the ‘Arab and the Camel’, after nearly 36 years of the one-sided tenancy agreements signed between past state governments with Civil Engineers Enterprise Pvt Ltd (CEEPL) over Nagaland House Commercial Complex Kolkata, finally, the deck has been cleared for the state to retain legal possession of the complex at Kolkata.
Talking to Nagaland Post, state chief secretary Temjen Toy, IAS said the state government is determined to wrest back the complex that has been with CEEPL and that eviction orders through court is being prepared in this regard. He reiterated the present PDA government’s determination to regain total ownership of the complex after the process for eviction is effected.
He declared that the property that belonged to the Nagas would be taken back and that the government was working on it though it would be a long and arduous task.
It may be mentioned that CEEPL has been in possession of the complex through one-sided rent lease agreements signed by the state under various governments. The state Cabinet during its meeting on February 5, 2020 authorized chief secretary to file for eviction orders through court.
It may be recalled that Nagaland Post has been highlighting the issue through several reports since 1992 regarding the one-sided lease agreements signed by the state which virtually handed over the entire commercial complex to CEEPL (erstwhile Engineers India Pvt. Ltd.)
The construction began sometime in 1979 and after work began, the government could not provide funds and midway in 1982, the contractor-- M/s Engineers India Ltd- pioneered and floated by a former retired engineer under the government of Nagaland, made a deal to ‘save the project’ by getting SBI loan but on the condition he was given the power of attorney over the entire premises for the purpose of obtaining loan.
The one-sided agreement handed over around 2/3rd of the most valuable and prime plot in Kolkata at 11, Shakespeare Sarani (erstwhile Theatre Road), to Civil Engineers Enterprise Pvt. Ltd (CEEPL) which also houses the massive office of the State Bank of India and M/s Nightingale Nursing Home.
It may also be recalled that during the recently-concluded fifth session of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, chief minister Neiphiu Rio had asserted that Calcutta High Court had directed that “In such circumstances, it would be appropriate to observe that the order dated 14th, May 2018 will not prevent the defendant/respondent (Government of Nagaland) from evicting the plaintiff/petitioner from the suit property, in accordance with law”.
Rio informed the House that the cabinet had on February 5, 2020 authorised the chief secretary to file eviction suit against the tenant (CEEPL) in Calcutta High Court, adding a suit had been prepared under the guidance of the State’s advocate general and was in the process of being filed.
During the debate, the NPF Legislature Party leader T.R.Zelianghad lauded the State government and advocate general for the favourable order of Calcutta High Court and opined that the interim order of the court should now stop the government from accepting Rs 7 lakh per month, which the tenants used to pay, and stick to the current market rate of Rs 2.20 crore per month.
Nagaland House complex was a turnkey project under Development Authority of Nagaland. As per the narrative description of the project, it was proposed to be a commercial-cum-guest House complex, comprising of an 11 storied office building of 12764 M2, a four storied Nursing Home of 832 M2, a six-storied VIP guest house of Nagaland government, a three storied office building of Nagaland government and a four storied staff quarters of Nagaland government. As per archtech consultants, the project started in 1979 and completed in September 1984 (phase I) and May 1988 (Phase II).
The chief minister’s office in 2018 had pointed out that the lease agreement was signed in 1997 during the Congress government that too on December 24, 1997. December 24, being a holiday, only raised suspicions about the haste in rushing to sign the one-sided deal.
The Lease was effective from January 1, 1998 for a period of 20 years which expired on January 1, 2018. Under that deal CEEPL was to pay a pittance of Rs.5 lakh per month (while market rate is around Rs. 2 crore) and given 1500 sq.ft free space without rent and also the right to sub-let any or entire complex without any reference to the Lessor (State).
The previous agreements were made under West Bengal Tenancy Act but the state government did not bother to study the implications. The present PDA coalition government has stood on the legality that the Nagaland House premises does not fall under the West Bengal Tenancy Act since it is a property belonging to the Nagaland government.
Leaving aside the rent from the SBI office, the Lessee (M/s CEEPL) earns Rs. 8 lakhs per month as rent from Nightingale Hospital. Further, there are many other commercial establishments in the premises from which CEEPL is collecting rentals.
If and when the eviction is effected, it would finally close the sordid chapter of one of the biggest scams in the state’s history where past governments had mortgaged a prime property and yet continued to defend the indefensible.