Direct ACB to question Fadnavis in land grab case, activist urges court

Were minutes of meeting erased to protect then Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse, states Damania in her submission

City-based advocate Asim Sarode, on behalf of anti-corruption activist Anjali Damania, has submitted a note of argument in a special court seeking a direction to the Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) to question former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in connection with a case of alleged land grab involving former Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse.

Ms. Damania has alleged in her submission before Judge S.R. Navandar as to whether Mr. Fadnavis, currently the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Leader of Opposition, had allegedly erased vital evidence of the minutes of a meeting chaired by Mr. Khadse, who was the then State Revenue Minister, in a bid to shield him.

She has further urged the court to direct the ACB to record statements of Mr. Khadse and his kin, as well as those of IAS officers concerned who served in the Forest and Revenue Departments when Mr. Khadse was the minister.

“Were minutes of a meeting chaired by Mr. Khadse erased [allegedly on Mr. Fadnavis’ orders]? Was this done to protect a party member and shield him from corruption charges?” Ms. Damania said in her submission.

Mr. Sarode said that the whole process of the investigation conducted by the ACB was shoddy and as a result, its closure report was questionable. “They have not bothered to follow the money and attempt to trace who deposited large sums of money in the accounts of Mr. Khadse, his wife Mandakini Khadse, and their son-in-law Girish Dayaram Chaudhary,” Mr. Sarode told The Hindu.

He further alleged that as per the complainant (Ms. Damania), the firms through which the illicit sum had been routed to the accounts of Mr. Khadse and his kin, were nothing but ‘shell companies’.

Mr. Sarode further submitted that the case should not be closed and the investigation should go on.

Judge Navandar has posted his decision on Ms. Damania’s submission for February 23.

Mr. Khadse, following his disenchantment with the BJP, had joined Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party late last year.

In 2019, Mr. Sarode, on behalf of Ms. Damania, had filed an intervention application in the special court challenging the ‘clean chit’ given by the ACB to Mr. Khadse concerning a prime plot of land belonging to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) in Pune’s Bhosari area that he had allegedly acquired by abusing his position as Revenue Minister in the erstwhile BJP government.

In 2018, in its final submission to a Pune court, the ACB had said that it failed to find “definite proof” that Mr. Khadse had misused his office to illicitly seize a three-acre plot in the possession of the MIDC for his private use near the sprawling township of Pimpri-Chinchwad.

Ms. Damania had been nudging the ACB to probe Mr. Khadse since 2017, after having submitted documents allegedly containing proof of the senior BJP leader’s illicit transactions in securing the plot of land.

Prior to that, in May 2016, city-based whistleblower Hemant Gawande had filed a complaint against Mr. Khadse in Pune, which, among other factors, eventually led to the latter’s resignation from the State Cabinet.

In April 2017, the ACB, after much procrastination, had finally lodged an FIR against Mr. Khadse in compliance with the Bombay High Court’s directive based on Mr. Gawande’s complaint.

The ACB had lodged an FIR under Sections 13 (1) d, 13 (2) and 15 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and Section 109 of the Indian Penal Code against the former Revenue Minister, his wife, his son-in-law, and Abbas Rasool Ukani, the original owner of the plot, who is said to be in cahoots with Mr. Khadse in allegedly engineering the scam.

According to Mr. Gawande, the original valuation of the plot, according to the sub-registrar, stood at ₹31 crore, a far cry from Mr. Khadse’s figure of ₹3.75 crore. Mr. Gawande had alleged that the value of the property when Mr. Khadse’s kin applied for compensation would stand at ₹65 crore, twice the original market valuation (calculated as per the compensation under the new Land Acquisition policy of 2013).

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