MAHARASHTRA’s Governor, Ch Vidyasagar Rao, will play a key role in the probe ordered against state’s housing minister Prakash Mehta. According to information, Rao is all set to invoke special powers conferred on the Governor’s office to grant more rights to the Maharashtra Lokayukta, who would be conducting the probe. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had earlier announced a Lokayukta-led probe into the allegations of irregularities by Mehta while sanctioning a proposal related to an SRA scheme in South Mumbai. But senior government sources said that Rao’s office will now issue orders to Lokayukta, M L Tahaliyani, for investigations in this regard.
The reason for this switch: The CM is said to be keen to clear his own name in the controversy. On June 21 this year, Mehta had issued orders to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority for permitting a real estate major in South Mumbai to make use of the built-up space originally sanctioned for expansion of rehabilitation homes in a slum project for building tenements for project-affected people.
In the process, Mehta’s orders permitted the developer to retain an incentive sale area of 71,822 square feet in the upscale South Mumbai, which he would have had to otherwise forgo. Mehta had issued orders ignoring the bureaucracy’s red flag, which had said that the rules do not permit such a conversion, and that Mehta lacked powers to take any such decision. The CM later stayed the approval.
While the proposal’s file never officially travelled to the CMO, Fadnavis was dragged into the controversy since Mehta, while approving the proposal, had noted on the file that the “Chief Minister had been briefed about the case”. After the controversy surfaced, both Mehta and Fadnavis had denied that the latter was informed about the proposal, but the Opposition has even been targeting the CM on the issue.
On August 11, Fadnavis, during the monsoon session of the state legislative Assembly, announced that the office of the Lokayukta would probe the matter. But there was a small catch. While the Lokayukta can summon or investigate other Council of Ministers in the state government, it does not have the powers to summon the CM for a probe. But the government’s legal advisors have now found a way to overcome this legal hitch.
Senior sources said that Maharashtra’s Lokayukta and Upalokayukta Act, 1971, grants the Governor special powers to confer “additional functions” on the Lokayukta for the redressal of grievances or eradication of corruption. Section 17 of the Act states that “the Governor may, by order in writing and subject to such conditions and limitation as may be specified in the orders, require the Lokayukta to investigate any action (being action in respect of which a complaint may be made under the Act to the Lokayukta), and notwithstanding anything contained in the Act, the Lokayukta will comply with such orders.”
While issuing orders for the probe, the Governor’s office will specifically ask the Lokayukta to investigate Mehta’s note pertaining to the CM. Sources said that the CM was even willing to appear before the Lokayukta to clarify his stance in this regard.