The NCP leader faces one of the biggest political challenges of his career.
Why is former Maharashtra Deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal in trouble?
On Tuesday, the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) searched 26 properties owned by Chhagan Bhujbal and his family across Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Nashik as part of its investigations into alleged irregularities in the award of contracts for three building projects in 2006 when Bhujbal was Deputy CM and PWD Minister.
How damaging are these cases for Bhujbal and the NCP?
With these graft cases, Bhujbal faces probably the biggest threat to his political career since the Telgi stamp paper scam in 2004, when he had to step down as Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister. Even his close associates concede that the latest controversy will hit him harder. For, not only are the charges against him serious, the NCP too appears to have little to offer him. Party chief Sharad Pawar broke his silence and came out in Bhujbal’s defence only after the latter called on him on Thursday.
What are the charges against Bhujbal?
In 2006, the Maharashtra government awarded a contract worth about Rs 100 crore to M/s Chamankar Developers for three construction projects — the Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, a new Regional Transport Office (RTO) building in Andheri, and a state guest house at High Mount, Malabar Hill, Mumbai. The contractor was allegedly granted 8 lakh sq ft of saleable built space in Andheri (Mumbai) against the construction of 1.7 lakh sq ft (Maharashtra Sadan), 47,000 sq ft (High Mount) and 3 lakh sq ft (the RTO office). A Public Accounts Committee was constituted after a 2009 CAG report passed strictures against the Bhujbal-led PWD and other state departments for “acts of omission and commission” that had led to a windfall gain for the contractor. The ACB pegs the losses to the government from the three projects at Rs 2,867.25 crore. The PAC had pegged the notional loss to the government at Rs 5,000-6,000 crore.
What set off the ACB probe?
In 2012, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya approached the ACB, seeking an inquiry against Bhujbal in the Maharashtra Sadan case. Later, Anjali Damania, then with AAP, filed a PIL in Bombay High Court seeking an FIR against Bhujbal and alleging that between February 12, 2010 and January 20, 2012, Chamankar Enterprises gave Rs 74.10 lakh to Ideen Furniture, whose directors are Vishaka Bhujbal, wife of Bhujbal’s son Pankaj, and Shefali Bhujbal, wife of his nephew Sameer.
What happened next?
Following Somaiya’s complaint, the ACB conducted a discreet inquiry and submitted a report to the government on October 14, 2014, a day before Maharashtra went to polls. On October 22, even as the BJP was contemplating an offer of “unconditional” outside support from the NCP, the Home Department sanctioned an open inquiry.
On December 19, 2014, following a Bombay High Court order, an SIT was set up to probe the allegations. On June 11, the ACB registered an FIR against Bhujbal and 16 others, three days after it had filed a separate FIR against Bhujbal in connection with alleged irregularities in the contract given for the construction of a library in Kalina, central Mumbai.
The same week, the Navi Mumbai police registered an FIR against Pankaj and Sameer Bhujbal for alleged fraud in the Hex World housing society case. Also, the Enforcement Directorate on Wednesday registered a case against Bhujbal and others under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
What is Bhujbal’s defence?
The Bhujbals have alleged political vendetta by the BJP-Shiv Sena government. On Tuesday evening, Bhujbal said, “I am surprised at the speed with which the investigation is moving. There is a political ploy to tarnish my image.” He said decisions on awarding the contracts were taken by the cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure and weren’t his alone.