Days after the Central government shunted out a senior academician facing graft charges, the Maharashtra government offered him a plum posting. And despite a case of disciplinary action pending against him, the academician, known to be close to a top politician in the state, was elevated and now holds three significant posts.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said he will “immediately look into the matter and take corrective action”.
The academician in question is Dr Jagannath Patil, a former director at the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) who is now the Chairman of Maharashtra Universities Recruitment Board, the Associate Dean of Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), and the Director General of Maharashtra Council of Agricultural Education and Research (MCAER).
Official records show that the Union Ministry of Agriculture’s Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had ordered disciplinary action against Patil over “financial and administrative irregularities committed by him” at the IIMR. His tenure as the IIMR director that started on August 6, 2010, had ended prematurely on April 30, 2015, after his services were curtailed citing the alleged “misconduct”. The Indian Express is in possession of all official records in this regard.
In 2013, a confidential report by ICAR’s Central Vigilance Office had indicted Patil for various “financial and procedural irregularities” in contracts for purchase of laboratory furniture and renovation of the main hall and other portions at IIMR.
On November 14, 2014, Arun Kumar, then director, Central Vigilance Commission, recommended “major penalty proceedings” against Patil while agreeing with the ICAR’s findings.
But this action was halted after ICAR’s decision to curtail Patil’s services and his repatriation to Maharashtra on April 30, 2015.
“Following the advice of the Chief Vigilance Commission, major penalty proceedings were initiated against Patil by issuing a chargesheet in January, 2015. Meanwhile, he was repatriated to his parent office. In view of this, the ICAR cannot proceed further against him due to provisions of the Central Civil Services rules,” said ICAR’s Under Secretary Girish Bhatt in an official communication to Dr Tukaram More, then vice-chancellor of the state-run Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), which is Patil’s parent office, on May 18, 2015.
“You are requested to take suitable necessary action against him,” Bhatt wrote.
But ignoring the case against Patil, Maharashtra’s agriculture department, which was then headed by Eknath Khadse, had already appointed Patil as the chairman of the Maharashtra Universities Recruitment Board on May 16. Despite the fact that Patil had rejoined MPKV on May 11, the appointment order addressed him as the IIMR director. It also skirted a mention of the controversy. The board oversees appointments of teaching staff for all the four state agricultural universities. Documents show that the appointment proposal came from Khadse’s office on May 8.
The same day, Patil wrote to ICAR seeking “a pardon for procedural lapses as a special case”. ICAR had earlier served him a show-cause notice on April 24, 2015. Replying to it, Patil said he had “acted in the best interest of IIMR” and defended that “similar actions had also been taken by his predecessors”. But the ICAR rejected this explanation. “After examination of his (Patil’s) reply, it was found that he was responsible for the lapses,” Bhatt wrote on May 18.
On May 20, following a written complaint by local activist Balasaheb Jadhav to the Governor and the Chief Minister’s Office, the state administration decided to write to the ICAR seeking more information. But when the Central agency did not reply to the query till June 24, Khadse stepped in again. “Since no adverse report has been received so far from the ICAR, and Patil has already rejoined MPKV, this file should be resubmitted only if there is any such report from the ICAR,” he wrote, on the file regarding the complaint against the appointment. Meanwhile, on June 17, another ICAR Under Secretary Dinesh Kumar Bhatnagar informed Jadhav that the agency had received a similar complaint through other sources too.
The complaints, however, appeared to have little impact. On August 5, Khadse elevated Patil as an associate dean at MPKV on a stop-gap basis. Records show two others applicants had applied for the post.
To ward off allegations against him, Patil wrote to More the next day, claiming that the complaints were baseless. “There was no serious inquiry against me when I was the IIMR Director. My repatriation was on administrative grounds,” he said. This, however, appeared to have cut no ice with More. On August 10, More sought former V-C Dr K E Lawande’s consent for appointing him as an “inquiry officer” to probe the ICAR case. On August 18, Shama Nanda, Section Officer, ICAR, confirmed that “major penalty proceedings had been initiated against Patil”.
In September, Jadhav dragged the state government to the Bombay High Court over the matter, which the court is yet to hear. In October, Patil contested for the MPKV V-C’s post. Jadhav has alleged that his application to the search committee for the post did not disclose the matter.
Eventually, on November 6, records show, the state’s chief secretary finally intervened, directing the agriculture department to “verify all facts” after personally hearing Jadhav’s plea. A factual report was submitted within ten days. In a damage-control bid, Patil wrote another letter to the MPKV’s registrar, claiming, “I’ve never committed any administrative irregularities.” With the complaints continuing, Khadse finally appointed a two-member commission comprising Maharashtra Council of Agricultural Education and Research (MCAER) Vice-Chairman Dr Ram Kharche and former MPKV V-C Dr S N Puri on December 1 to probe the complaints.
The commission completed the probe in just 15 days, giving Patil a clean chit. Incidentally, the commission’s report shows that no one from the ICAR was summoned by the panel. The local complainant, Jadhav, also refused to depose before the committee and has alleged on record that “the committee members were related to Patil in one way or the other”.
The clean chit was given on the basis of evidence presented by Patil and documents made available by More and the MPKV registrar. “The documents made available to the committee found that Patil wasn’t provided access to the documents and that the CVO had come to erroneous conclusions,” the committee ruled.
Complaints, however, continued. On December 15, a collective of MPKV scientists and the Maharashtra Agricultural Universities Teachers Association (MAUTA) wrote to the Chief Minister’s Office.
“The mandate for the state was to act against the officials. The inquiry had already been done by ICAR and seconded by the Central Vigilance Commission. The official appears to have gotten away,” said a senior ICAR official, who did not wish to be named, when contacted.
On December 28, Ravinesh Kumar, the then chief vigilance officer (ICAR), had even cautioned the state government over the issue.
Objecting to the elevation of Patil, Kumar’s letter had asked the then ACS (Agriculture) D K Jain to personally look into the matter and initiate disciplinary action against him. Kumar had also demanded that the ICAR be apprised of this action.
Accordingly, on February 15, 2016, Kharche forwarded his report to the ICAR, intimating the decision to drop the probe against Patil. On February 24, Khadse used his discretion once again to depute Patil as MCAER’s Director General and Member Secretary, which has traditionally been held by an IAS officer. MCAER oversees functioning of all agricultural universities, and has control over 12,000 seats available for students’ admissions.