A special court in Thane on Wednesday sentenced a BJP corporator of the Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation to five years in jail for demanding and accepting a bribe in 2014. This was done after the court observed that to set an example in society, “particularly among the elected members of the society”, maximum punishment should be given.
The corporator, Varsha Bhanushali (43), was asked to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh as well. Special Judge P P Jadhav also directed the commissioner of the corporation to initiate a department inquiry against other officers named in the offence, observing that Bhanushali could not have committed the crime without their collusion and assistance.
According to the prosecution led by Vivek Kadu, the complainant in the case had approached an official of the corporation in 2013, seeking permission to increase the height of five commercial blocks she owned. The official, who was from the town planning department, directed her towards another official of the tax department, who allegedly sought money and asked her to meet Bhanushali.
“The commissioner…is hereby directed to inquire the involvement of concerned officers in the present crime and take action against them by conducted a departmental inquiry,” the court said, while directing that a copy of the judgment be sent to the commissioner. The complainant had claimed that a bribe of Rs 1.6 lakh was demanded by Bhanushali and that she had approached the Thane Anti-Corruption Bureau, which caught the accused red-handed while accepting Rs 60,000.
Bhanushali, in her defence, claimed she was falsely implicated by the complainant, who was known to her, due to political rivalry, and that the complainant was given permission for the extension even before the alleged demand for a bribe. “It is pertinent to note that the original complainant is also familiar with the accused, that she used to call the accused ‘Mummy’. Despite such close relations, the accused greedily agreed in the act of corruption…” the court said.
Bhanushali also claimed she had accepted the money as payment for a contractor, who was also examined as a defence witness. The court held that the accused’s explanation in this regard was not clear. The court also directed concerned authorities to verify eligibility of the contractors registered with the corporation, after the prosecution pointed out discrepancies in his eligibility. While Bhanushali sought leniency stating she is a sitting corporator and engages in social work, the court said, “By taking undue advantage of being a corporator, she has engaged in the act of corruption.”