Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Army housing scam: Antony orders probe

New Delhi: Defence minister A K Antony has ordered an internal inquiry into allegations of several misdeeds, and possible criminal conspiracy, in the way the Army Welfare Housing Organization (AWHO) has been selling houses to military families.

Sources said Antony has asked defence secretary R K Mathur for a detailed report into the allegations.

The defence secretary is expected to ask the army headquarters for a report, based on which further decision would be taken.

The army headquarters had last week told TOI that it was in possession of a performance audit of AWHO, while denying TOI report that Lt Gen J P Nehra was moved as the adjutant general recently because of the serious nature of allegations regarding AWHO’s functioning. The army had said in a formal statement to TOI, “A performance audit of AWHO has been done by a board of officers. It is a normal feature and such audits are done for other departments too for evaluating and improving the performance of the organization. Allegations that AWHO tied up with private builders to sell the houses and of financial wrongdoings in land purchase are incorrect.”

However, complaints with Antony and several sources are contradicting army’s claims. Sources said Antony is in possession of detailed complaints, and some regional media reports, pointing out serious lacunae in some AWHO projects. Allegations surrounding the Kochi project of AWHO are serious in nature, and include allegations of deliberate efforts to scuttle the AWHO’s own project and possible conspiracy.

AWHO had bought a 4.25-acre plot on Silver Sand Island in 1987 near Kochi to build houses at affordable rates for its applicants in Kerala. However, even after 25 years the houses are still not ready. Meanwhile, AWHO got into a ‘turn-key’ project with a private builder and bought an apartment complex from it and sold it to military families. Sold at Rs 2,940 per square feet, the turn-key project is next to a railway track on a small plot and without much civic amenities.

Allegation abounds that AWHO quoted the cost of its own project on Silver Sand Island at a higher rate than the turn-key project, and thus tempted applicants to the private builder’s complex. Strangely, its own project should be far cheaper because the land cost was negligible and the AWHO operates on no-profit no-loss basis.

Worse, the cost of both the AWHO projects in Kochi is more than the open market rate of several good apartment complexes in Kerala’s commercial capital, according to complaints by serving and retired officers.

There are also hints of a possible conspiracy in Kochi, with the AWHO awarding the contract for constructing its Silver Sand Island project to the same builder whose building was earlier bought on a turn-key basis. It is alleged that the tender processing was flawed and there may be serious violation of norms, which led to the same builder bagging the contract. Even as Antony seeks a report, sources aridespread irregularities in AWHO projects elsewhere in the country.

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