A day after the state Home department sanctioned an inquiry into alleged role of senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former Maharashtra Public Works Department (PWD) minister Chhagan Bhujbal in irregularities in a public private partnership (PPP) project involving Delhi’s Maharashtra Sadan and two other government buildings in Mumbai, it has come to light that the erstwhile Prithviraj Chavan-led Congress-NCP government had turned a blind eye to recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the state legislature in this regard.
In February this year, PAC asked the Chavan government to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter after submitting a report to the legislature where it observed that several ‘state functionaries’ worked hand-in-glove with the contractor inflicting a major loss to the state exchequer.
In 2006, the Congress-NCP government entered into an agreement with contractor K S Chamankar for three buildings — the Maharashtra Sadan (state’s official guest house in Delhi Lutyen’s zone), another state guest house (Highmount) in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill, and new administrative building and residential quarters for the Regional Transport Office in Mumbai’s Andheri, on PPP. Under the arrangement, the contractor is believed to have been granted 8 lakh sq ft saleable space in Mumbai’s prime Andheri area against construction of the Maharashtra Sadan (1.7 lakh sq ft), High Mount (47,000 sq ft), and RTO office (3 lakh sq ft).
The PAC was constituted after a 2009 Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report passed strictures against the Bhujbal-led PWD and other state departments, and the state cabinet for ‘acts of omission and commission’ and ‘norm violations’ resulting in a windfall for the contractor.
Pointing out irregularities in allotment of the contract and nature of the PPP, the CAG found that recommendations of a panel of secretaries and the state finance department regarding bids for the project had been overlooked by the Cabinet Committee of Infrastructure.
Echoing CAG findings, the PAC, which comprises MLAs from all parties, claimed there was evidence to suggest government functionaries connived with the contractor to pass on undue benefits to him. It alleged that the entire ‘scam was worth over Rs 5,000 crore.’
The PAC found that development control regulations (DCR) in Mumbai were violated. It asked the government to set up a SIT to probe the ‘massive corruption’. Reliable sources confirmed that the government did not act on the recommendation with Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections round the corner.
PAC chairman Girish Bapat asked the government to involve the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as well, since the scope of investigation involved construction in Delhi too. While the PAC sought the SIT report within six months, the government sat on the recommendation, sources confirmed.
The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) conducted a preliminary investigation after receiving complaints from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lok Sabha member Kirit Somaiya and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) against Bhujbal.
On October 14, ACB submitted a ‘special report’ to the Home department, seeking permission for an open inquiry. As reported first by The Indian Express, the department gave its nod on Wednesday. The file has been forwarded to Maharashtra Chief Secretary Swadhin Kshatriya.
Besides technical illegalities and irregularities, the anti-corruption watchdog found evidence meriting an inquiry into allegations of economic offences by Somaiya against Bhujbal. The agency sought permission to involve vigilance agencies monitoring economic offences to help in the investigations.
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