The Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau Tuesday conducted simultaneous searches at 25 properties owned by senior Nationalist Congress Party leader and former state minister Chhagan Bhujbal and his family members. The properties searched by the ACB include a bungalow in Achavan village near Lonavla in Pune district, which is estimated to be worth around Rs 5 crore, and another in Nashik, called the Bhujbal Palace that is valued at roughly Rs 100 crore.
ACB officials, however, said no cash, jewellery or valuables were found at any of the properties that they searched. “No valuables, except for paintings and antiques were found during the searches,” said Director General of Police, ACB, Praveen Dixit.
Bhujbal was named as an accused in two FIRs registered by the ACB last week. While one FIR was registered in connection with alleged misconduct in awarding the contract for construction of a central library in Kalina, the other was about a joint contract for the construction of new Maharashtra Sadan building in New Delhi, a state guest house in Malabar Hill area, and a new building for the RTO in Andheri.
ACB officials said the searches were conducted by teams of officers in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. Several flats, bungalows and commercial spaces in the names of Bhujbal and various members of his family were searched.
“Among the properties in Pune is a bungalow in Lonavala that is owned by son Pankaj and nephew Sameer Bhujbal. The six-bedroom bungalow is located on 2.82 hectares of land, is furnished with imported furniture and has a swimming pool as well as a helipad. It also has three servants’ quarters and five rooms for security guards, and the entire property is estimated to be worth Rs 5 crore,” said an ACB officer. He added that the team in Nashik searched five properties, including a bungalow called Bhujbal Palace. “The bungalow has 25 rooms, a swimming pool and a gym, and is worth close to Rs 100 crore,” said the officer.
The other properties searched by the ACB include 12 flats and a shop in Mumbai and four flats and nine shops in Navi Mumbai. “Our teams are still assessing the total value of the properties,” the officer added.
According to the ACB, Bhujbal owns 65 acres of land in Achavan village where he constructed the lavish bungalow with helipad. The bungalow has not been sealed.
The ACB team also raided an apartment owned by Sameer Bhujbal at Grafficon Arcade in Sangamwadi area of Pune city. The apartment number 208 on the third floor was locked. Primary investigation revealed that the apartment had been rented out to a private party. There is a name plate of “The Institute of Safety Management and Services” on the door.
Local residents told the media that this apartment had been closed for the last couple of years. Sources said the ACB contacted the private party and asked for keys to open the apartment for conducting searches.
Reacting to the case, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “There will be an unbiased inquiry into the case and action will be taken accordingly.”
The CM was in Pune Tuesday to attend the two meetings of divisional commissioners and district collectors convened by the revenue department. He spoke to the media before rushing to Mumbai. “If there is appropriate evidence, action will be taken accordingly,” he said. When asked about actions to be initiated against cases put forth by the ACB, the CM said “Aage aage dekho, hota hai kya (Wait to see what happens next).”
Speaking at a press conference at the Mantralaya in Mumbai later, Fadnavis said the investigation was being conducted as per norms and denied that there was any political vendetta behind the action. He said nothing was being done that was different from any other Prevention of Corruption Act case. “There is no question of political vendetta. This is a High Court monitored investigation. If the state government indulges in such political vendetta , it can itself come under the scanner,” said Fadnavis. Speaking about action against other government officers named in the FIRs, he said, “Action will be taken as per norms. A departmental inquiry is necessary for initiating suspension proceedings.”
In a sharp reaction, Chhagan Bhujbal said, “I am surprised at the speed with which the investigation is moving. There is a political ploy to tarnish my image.” He reiterated that the decision on Maharashtra Sadan “was taken by a cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure”. “But they are trying to single me out for the decision,” said the former public works department (PWD) minister. However, sources in the PWD said, the ACB was investigating the financial irregularities, and not questioning the policy decision taken by the cabinet sub-committee.
NCP rallies behind Bhujbal
Mumbai: The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has rallied behind its senior leader and former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal has been charged in two graft probes. “This is nothing but vendetta politics. The BJP had run an election campaign where it made false allegations against our leaders. It is now pressuring the government machinery to act on these false allegations,” party’s national spokesperson Nawab Malik said.
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