WITH MAHARASHTRA ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis government as well as the previous Congress-NCP regime facing charges of violating the model code of conduct by being on boards of private companies, two former state chief ministers said that it was now up to the current chief minister to set a precedent by taking action.
Former chief ministers Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan, both from the Congress, said the implementation of the model code of conduct needed to be strengthened, and it could not remain just a set of rules on a piece of paper with no enforceability.
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Ashok Chavan, also the state Congress chief, said the model code of conduct for ministers had been drafted and cleared by the Union cabinet under the leadership of the prime minister, the highest authority, so there should be no question of ministers not following it.
Chavan, who was the chief minister of Maharashtra between 2008 and 2010, said, “Ideally, the government should initiate action against the ministers not following the code of conduct. Only real action can set a precedent in the years to come.”
The Indian Express had last week reported that the BJP-led Maharashtra government had at least three cabinet ministers and three ministers of state on the boards of private companies, as per information from the Registrar of Companies (RoC). Of these, BJP Minister Chandrakant Patil, in charge of the public works department, resigned from his Kolhapur-based private firm last week, while two ministers of state claim they had left their directorial posts with private companies before they became ministers, but the RoC records have not been updated.
Similarly, three cabinet ministers and two ministers of state from the erstwhile Congress-NCP government too had held on to their positions as directors in private companies despite being ministers, and the model code of conduct prohibiting it, The Indian Express had found.
The code of conduct states that ministers within two months of assuming office shall sever all connection with the conduct and management of any business that he was part of before being appointed as minister.
Ashok Chavan, who had resigned from the chief minister’s post in November 2010 following the Adarsh housing controversy, said the code of conduct should definitely be enforceable no matter which government was in power, as conflict of interest could arise in some or the other form all the time.
“Unfortunately, on every issue this government has shown that its policy is to first protect its ministers. Morality is something that this government doesn’t give significance at all,” he added.
Earlier this month, when the opposition had targeted BJP Minister Vinod Tawde, seeking his resignation for his alleged links with private companies, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had defended him saying the code of conduct was not constitutionally enforceable.
The Congress’ Prithviraj Chavan, the immediate former chief minister before Fadnavis, said the situation might not be different from what it was in the government under him. “It’s just that it was never brought to our notice during our term, that’s all. In any case, it cannot be condoned. The worst thing that any government can do is to draft rules that cannot be enforced. It makes us seem like a very soft state,” said Chavan, who succeeded Ashok Chavan as chief minister in November 2010.
He added the code of conduct was rolled out in 1964 to incorporate the smaller aspects of conduct that could not be incorporated under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and even if the courts say the rules are not constitutionally enforceable, the government should question that.
“Otherwise, alter the rules so that they can be enforced, but there is no point in simply having a piece of paper. The model code of conduct is very strictly followed in democracies such as the United Kingdom and United States. In our country too, someone needs to take a final call,” the former CM said.