For all the noise that former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan made before the Assembly elections about his desire to crack down on corruption, it has emerged that his government sat quietly on 76 cases of graft, mostly against its own senior officials, breaching its own deadline and delaying permission for investigators to initiate action.
The beneficiaries of this silence include former ministers such as NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal, legislators, and IAS, IPS and IFS officials. These cases will now pose the first big challenge for the incoming BJP-led government and its anti-corruption agenda. “The new government would have to deal with these cases almost immediately,” a senior state government official told The Indian Express.
Admitting that the government should not have flouted its own norm, senior Congress leader Naseem Khan, who was a minister in the Chavan Cabinet, attributed the delay to “some technical and legal reasons”. Khan, however, admitted that the “negative peception” about the previous Congress-NCP government on issues related to corruption was a reason for its defeat in the recent elections.
According to rules formulated in February following a Supreme Court directive, when the state government is approached by its Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for permission to proceed with an ‘open inquiry’, it needs to give the green signal within three months.
The government must follow a similar deadline when it comes to permission to prosecute and file chargesheets — and again, when the ACB seeks a review of a decision to reject permission for an investigation.
Out of these 76 cases, the ACB had sought permission to prosecute top functionaries in 44 cases; initiate open inquiries in 13 cases; and review the government’s decision not to move ahead in the remaining 19.
Consider some of the high-profile investigations that were put on hold:
The alleged role of former Public Works Department minister Chhagan Bhujbal in a construction project involving three government buildings that is under the scanner. The state home department gave its nod for an ‘open inquiry’ last week, but a final government sanction is still awaited.
The alleged role of five IAS officials in a Rs 400 crore land deal in Mumbai.
Allegations of corruption against a former Congress minister in a Sindhudurg mining project.
Allegations of possessing assets disproportionate to income against legislators Manikrao Kokate (Congress) and Arun Jagtap (NCP).
Corruption investigation pending since 2011 against IPS officer Shashikant Shinde, who is currently DIG (Prisons).
Permission for probe, pending since April, into allegations of disproportionate assets amassed by IPS officer Ajit Patil, currently DIG (Economic Offences Wing, Pune).
Permission pending since July to probe the alleged role of IFS officer Ramanuj Choudhary in connection with irregularities in the tendering of Tendu Patta.
A senior official admitted that such delays allow many of those being probed, who hold senior posts, to remain in service and even influence the progress of the case. “A number of trials have fallen through on account of the delays,” he added.
Sources said the ACB has sent several reminders to government departments to speed up permission to probe these cases. For instance, six reminders have been sent since November 2013 in once case alone involving a senior excise officer Vijay Shardul.
Now the break-up:
At 26, the highest number of pending graft cases involve officials from the state revenue department. These include 11 tahsildars, eight nayib tahsildars, four deputy superintendents of land records, and three deputy collectors.
The urban development department is the next in line with six pending cases including those against a former deputy secretary, a senior town planning officer, and two chief officers in municipal councils.
The finance and rural development departments have four pending cases each.