BJP leader Eknath Khadse will not have to face a judicial probe, as the Opposition has been demanding.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Monday that a panel headed by a retired High Court judge was being constituted to investigate the controversial purchase of MIDC land by the former minister. He added that the probe would not be under the Commission of Inquiry (COI) Act, which means that it will not be a judicial probe.
“It will be a high-level inquiry,” the CM explained.
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Sources told The Indian Express that at one point, the government was considering a judicial probe. But the BJP leadership, both at the state and the Centre, are learnt to have opposed the move.
A senior official admitted that the judicial probe under the COI Act would have been more exhaustive and influential. “A panel appointed under the Act functions almost like a court and has powers to summon complainants, witnesses, and those under investigation for examination and cross-examination. While the findings of the judicial probe are not binding on the government, they are considered more influential than a regular inquiry,” the official said.
Khadse had himself sought a probe into allegations following his resignation from the Cabinet two weeks ago. Sources in the BJP said that Khadse supporters were not in favour of a judicial probe as it would have taken longer to complete.
For now, the chief minister has given the probe panel three months to submit its findings. Also, while the panel is expected to look into the allegations against Khadse, Fadnavis indicated the panel’s main task would be to probe whether there had been impropriety and conflict of interest in the three-acre land purchased by Khadse’s wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhari in Pune’s Bhosari.
The Indian Express had reported how, a month after his kin had made initial payments for purchasing the land, Khadse had convened a meeting on April 12 where he ordered that the original landowners, locked in a dispute with the state government over compensation for acquisition of the land for the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), be compensated as per enhanced rates under the new Land Act. Further there is no evidence on record to suggest that Khadse had revealed to the bureaucrats at the meeting that his wife and son-in-law were already locked in negotiations for purchasing the same land. The newspaper had also highlighted how Khadse’s kin had allegedly misdeclared and undervalued the property.
Fadnavis said, “The key terms of reference for the panel would to be to probe whether there had been a conflict-of-interest in the deal. It will also probe whether the land had already been acquired for MIDC, and whether compensation was paid to the original owners.”