Dr Jagannath Patil, an academic nominated to three plum posts by senior BJP leader and former agriculture minister Eknath Khadse, has been divested of all these assignments on the orders of Khadse’s successor Pandurang Fundkar, top sources said. The Indian Express had reported in July that the first of these appointments had come within days of Patil being shunted out by the Centre over graft accusations. He had been given two other posts even as the disciplinary probe against him was pending, the report had said. The probe panel had, in December 2015, ultimately given Patil a “clean chit”.
Following The Indian Express report, however, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said he would “look into the matter and take corrective action”. While Patil’s inability to devote equal time to the multiple posts he was holding has been cited as the official reason for his removal, sources said that the allegations raised by the Centre against him had also played a role in the decision.
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Records accessed by this newspaper show the Union Agriculture Ministry’s Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had launched disciplinary action against Patil for “financial and procedural irregularities” in contracts allotted by him when he was on deputation as Director of the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR). He was in the post from August 6, 2010 to April 30, 2015, when ICAR ended his services citing “misconduct”. The matter dates back to 2013, when the ICAR’s Central Vigilance Office indicted Patil over alleged irregularities involving contracts given for renovation of portions of IIMR’s premises, and the purchase of laboratory furniture. Papers show that ICAR’s action against Patil came after Arun Kumar, then director, Central Vigilance Commission, on November 14, 2014, validated the vigilance inquiry, and recommended “major penalty proceedings” against him.
But in a contentious decision, Patil’s services were ended on April 30, 2015, and he was repatriated to his parent university, the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV) in Maharashtra’s Rahuri, where he heads the Genetics and Plant Breeding department. Following the repatriation, ICAR’s Under Secretary Girish Bhatt, on May 18, 2015, wrote to MPKV’s then Vice Chancellor, Dr Tukaram More: “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. You are requested to take suitable necessary action against him.”
However, the state’s Agriculture Department, acting on Khadse’s orders, had already gone ahead, appointing Patil as the Chairman of the Maharashtra Universities Recruitment Board on May 16 itself. The board oversees appointments of teaching staff for all four state agricultural universities. Earlier, on May 8, Patil had written to ICAR seeking “a pardon for the procedural lapses as a special case”, and arguing that he had “acted in the IIMR’s best interests”. But ICAR had rejected this explanation.
Trouble for Patil appeared to have resurfaced within four days of his fresh appointment. According to records, on May 20, 2015, acting on a complaint from an activist citing the ICAR controversy, Maharashtra’s Governor C H Vidyasagar Rao and Chief Minister Fadnavis sought information from the Agriculture department in this regard, which, in turn, contacted the ICAR. But, records show, on August 5, Khadse elevated Patil as the Associate Dean of the MPKV on a stop-gap basis. Then, in September, the activist moved the Bombay High Court, seeking cancellation of the appointments. With the allegations persisting, Chief Secreary Swadheen Kshatriya, on November 6, directed the Agriculture department to “verify all facts”.
Eventually, on December 1, Khadse formed a two-man panel — headed by Maharashtra Council of Agricultural Education and Research (MCAER) Vice Chairman Dr Ram Kharche — to probe the matter against Patil. The committee, which completed its investigations within 15 days, gave Patil a clean chit. But the complaints still persisted. On December 15, a collective of MPKV scientists and the Maharashtra Agricultural Universities Teachers Association (MAUTA), approached the Chief Minister’s Office challenging Patil’s appointments. Further, on December 28, Ravinesh Kumar, then Chief Vigilance Officer (ICAR), also wrote to then state Agriculture Secretary D K Jain, objecting to Patil’s elevation and asking him to personally look into the matter, and launch disciplinary action against Patil while apprising the ICAR of the action.
Accordingly, on February 15, 2016, Kharche submitted his report to ICAR, intimating the state’s decision to drop the probe against Patil. And within eight days, on February 24, Khadse deputed Patil as MCAER’s Director General and Member Secretary, a post that has been traditionally held by an IAS officer. MCAER oversees functioning of all agricultural universities, and has control over 12,000 seats available for students’ admissions. Kharche, when contacted, confirmed that Patil had been relieved from all these posts on October 19. He, however, said that Fundkar had taken the decision for administrative reasons.
“Some urgent actions were needed to be taken since the ICAR had put the accreditation of the state’s agricultural universities on hold raising certain queries. It was felt that Patil, on account of the multiple portfolios he held, was unable to devote sufficient time and efforts for these action. So the MCAER had proposed that he be divested of some portfolios. The minister, who is also the MCAER chairman, ordered that Patil be retained as HoD of the MPKV, while he should be relieved of other portfolios,” Kharche said.
Dr Shrikant Kakade, who is MCAER’s Director (Education), has been made the Director General and Member Secretary of the MCAER on a stop-gap basis whereas Kharche himself has been asked to take over the Recruitment Board chairman’s post for now. Patil had earlier told The Indian Express that he had done no wrong, and that incorrect charges had been levelled against him, while Khadse had cited the panel’s clean chit to defend his decision.