January 22, 2021 1:40:55 am
After the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday assured the Bombay High Court that it would not take any coercive action against NCP leader Eknath Khadse in a Pune land deal case till the next hearing, the Court posted further hearing on the former minister’s plea on January 25.
A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice Manish Pitale was hearing Khadse’s plea against a case that ED had lodged in 2016 in connection to a land deal in Pune’s Bhosari village.
Last month, the ED, which registered an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) last October, had sent a notice to Khadse over the land deal. Khadse, who had left BJP to join NCP last October, had appeared before the ED on January 15 and was questioned for over six hours in connection to the case. Khadse had then moved a criminal writ petition before the HC seeking quashing of the ECIR and also sought interim protection from coercive action pending hearing of his plea.
Senior advocate Aabad Ponda, representing Khadse, told the court that as his client has been cooperating with the ED and had appeared before its office, he should not be arrested pending hearing. Khadse’s plea also urged that no future summons be issued to him. He further said that the land in question was purchased legally by his wife and son-in-law from the owner.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, representing the ED, opposed the plea. The ED, in its reply to the plea, said that the ECIR was registered against Khadse, his wife Mandakini Khadse and son-in-law Girish Choudhari and one Abbas Ukkani in an alleged grab of a plot belonging to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation in Bhosari village. The deal caused a loss of Rs 61.25 crore to the public exchequer, it added.
“The petitioner, using his official position and government machinery, manipulated the actual market price, which was more than Rs. 31 crore at that time…,” the ED affidavit said.
It added that the investigation so far has revealed evidence showing a clear money laundering angle in case. “It is a clear case of conflict of interest, where then revenue minister mobilised the revenue department to ensure that his family, who are purchasers of said property, shall receive the compensation, which is more than the two times the current market rate of the same property along with interest.”
Khadse, in his plea, has claimed that an FIR was lodged in the case in 2017, but the police later filed a closure report before a court in Pune.
However, the ED has claimed that the court has till date not accepted the closure report and hence, the FIR is not closed. Therefore, the petition seeking quashing of the ECIR is premature and hence, should be dismissed, it added. The bench posted the petition for further hearing on January 25 after the ED counsel said: “Nothing (no action) will happen till then.”
The court, however, sought to know why the ED was insisting on not granting Khadse protection from arrest. Justice Shinde said, “What is so urgent? He (Khadse) has honoured it (summons). He has appeared before the investigating agency. He is ready to cooperate. Then what is the urgency? Why should there be so much insistence that no interim protection be granted?”
The bench added, “If somebody is ready to cooperate, appears and has attended, we pose a question to ourselves: what is the need of arrest at this stage? What heavens are going to fall if the petitioner is given protection for a few days?
Justice Shinde remarked, “Reconsider still (interim protection). The judiciary, RBI and agencies like ED, CBI and so on are independent. They should act independently and impartially. Like the armed forces… There is a threat to the very democracy if these agencies don’t act independently.”
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