THE MAHARASHTRA Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which was probing allegations of financial irregularities against former BJP minister Eknath Khadse in connection to a land deal in Pune, has reportedly submitted a report in the court stating that it has not found any concrete evidence against him.
Acting on orders of the Bombay High Court, the ACB, in April 2017, had booked Khadse — former revenue minister in the Fadnavis government — his wife Mandakini Khadse, son-in-law Girish Chaudhary and others in connection to allegations made by Pune-based realtor Hemant Gawande.
In his complaint to the Bundgarden police on May 30, 2016, Gawande had alleged that Khadse misused his power as a minister and purchased land in Pune’s Bhosari area, owned by Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), in the name of his wife and son-in-law at Rs 3.75 crore, as against the market price of Rs 40 crore. He had also moved court.
Sandeep Diwan, SP of ACB’s Pune unit, said: “We have filed a final report in the court. A hearing will be held on the report and the court is expected to with give its ruling. At this juncture, I cannot share the contents of the report.”
Sources, however, said the report states there is nothing to substantiate Khadse “misusing his power and position as a minister” in the case. The ACB has reportedly also ruled out that the state exchequer suffered loss of revenue as a result of the deal.
When contacted, Khadse said: “From the very beginning, I have been saying that the charges against me were false. It was a design to tarnish my image. The clean chit by the ACB has vindicated my stand.”
On his possible return to the state Cabinet, he said: “I have been working in the social sector for the last 40 years and never thought our party will come to power. I was jailed during Emergency… that was not for any position. I will be in the BJP and continue working for the party.” Activist Anjali Damania, who had gone on an indefinite fast demanding Khadse’s resignation, said the development was a pointer to how the ruling BJP was giving clean chits to its corrupt leaders. “We will take the matter to the Supreme Court. Our fight against corruption will continue,” she added. Damania is facing a series of defamation cases filed allegedly by Khadse’s supporters.
Meanwhile, Gawande said he will decide his the next course of action after studying the ACB report.
Khadse, then number 2 in the government, was forced resigned in 2016 following Gawande’s allegations. And despite the alleged clean chit, his induction into the state Cabinet remains a question mark, as the case is still pending in court.
The development assumes significance as BJP has begun preparations for 2019 Lok Sabha and state polls. Political commentator Abhay Deshpande said the “clean chit” would help BJP to use his experience and OBC leadership to convey a positive message in rural areas, specially in north Maharashtra.
“If we track the entire development — to Khadse’s resignation to getting clean chit — it is a pointer to intra-party politics… Ever since Devendra Fadnavis had assumed charge of Maharashtra, Khadse has not been able to reconcile to his junior becoming the CM. The conflict worsened when he said the same year that the CM should be from OBCs,” he added. Ever since he was divested of the ministerial post, Khadse had been making concerted attempts to stage a comeback in the government. In several Assembly sessions and public forums, he had often expressed his displeasure over the land deal probe. Thrice, he had also threatened to leave BJP. Taking advantage of Khadse’s discontent, the Congress-NCP top leadership has given him open invitation to join them. With NCP losing its OBC face following the imprisonment of its senior leader Chhagan Bhujbal, the party was vying to get close to Khadse.
“We had to placate Khadse to show the united face of BJP. Though he cannot make or break the party, any attempt to cross sides would have been detrimental for the organisation,” a source in the BJP said.
The 3-acre land in question is located in the the industrial zone of Bhosari in Pimpri-Chinchwad. Gawande had alleged that Khadse purchased the land keeping both MIDC and the landowner in dark. The deal, he had claimed, was done keeping in view the multiple crore compensation the new owner would be eligible for.
On February 14, 2017, the Bundgarden police had filed an affidavit before the HC stating that there was no prima facie material to make out a cognizable offence so as to register an FIR in this case. A judicial commission headed by retired HC Justice Dinkar Zoting was also set up by the state government to probe the land deal.
On March 8, 2017, however, the HC had ordered the ACB to register an FIR and investigate the matter “independently and without reference to the inquiry conducted by the judicial commission of retired Justice Zoting”.
(With inputs from Partha Sarathi Biswas)