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Adarsh Housing Society controversy: Another shot in the arm for Congress, say party leaders

Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam said just like 2G, Adarsh was never a ‘scam’ and alleged it was just a ploy of the BJP to malign the Congress.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai |
Updated: December 23, 2017 9:11:10 am
Ashok Chavan Ashok Chavan, then the state’s chief minister, had to step down in 2010, and the party’s image was battered.

Within hours of the Bombay High Court quashing Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao’s sanction to prosecute former chief minister Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh housing society matter, the Congress mounted an offensive against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, accusing it of unleashing a political vendetta against opponents.

The opposition party said the verdict was a slap on BJP’s “dirty and vindictive politics”. It claimed that the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) move to seek fresh permission from the Governor’s office to prosecute Chavan after the BJP came to power in the state was “politically motivated”. Coming on the back of the Congress party’s credible performance in the Gujarat elections and the 2G spectrum verdict, the HC verdict, said party seniors, was another shot in the arm for the Congress, especially in Maharashtra.

The Adarsh controversy had rocked the Congress while it was ruling the state. Chavan, then the state’s chief minister, had to step down in 2010, and the party’s image was battered. The BJP, then in the Opposition, had made it a poll issue during the 2014 Assembly poll.

While the Congress rehabilitated Chavan as the Maharashtra Congress chief in March 2015, party seniors said Friday’s verdict would bolster Chavan’s confidence and boost the morale of workers. “Ashok Chavan is the party’s tallest leader in Maharashtra. He was the only established leader to withstand the Modi wave during the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. He ensured that the assembly segments in his native Nanded remained loyal to the Congress in the subsequent assembly poll. In October this year, the Congress also swept the civic poll in Nanded. He is the party’s face in the state,” said a former Congress minister.

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Adarsh Housing Society controversy Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam said like 2G, Adarsh was never a ‘scam’. (Express File)

With the threat of criminal prosecution lifted, insiders feel Chavan would assume a more aggressive stance against the BJP. “My stance from the very beginning has been that I was being targeted for political vendetta, and that the accusations against me were politically motivated. The BJP is unleashing political vendetta to finish off opponents,” Chavan said.

He said, “The previous Governor (K Sankaranarayanan) refused to accord sanction for prosecution against me after considering all the material the investigating agency (the CBI) had placed before him and after proper application of mind. There was no scope to review this order where there was no new evidence. Despite this, the current Governor (Ch Vidyasagar Rao) overturned his predecessor’s order on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers and the CBI. I’m happy that truth has prevailed. Today, the prestige of the Governor’s office has been restored. It would have set a wrong precedent otherwise.”

Party spokesman Sachin Sawant said that after the former Governor’s refusal for sanctioning prosecution, the CBI itself had approached the trial court in January 2014 for dropping the former CM’s name from the list of accused. Likening the 2G spectrum controversy to Adarsh, Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam said just like 2G, Adarsh was never a ‘scam’ and alleged it was just a ploy of the BJP to malign the Congress.

Ironically, Chavan said it would not be proper to compare the 2G case to his own legal battle. He also remarked that accusations against him in the Adarsh matter had “not been an issue that found resonance with the electorate”. He said, “My opponents used it to malign me, but the voter was not convinced. How else would I have won elections? To my mind, it did not impact me or my party electorally.”

For Chavan, the next legal battle would be to get his name dropped as an accused in the case. Sources confirmed that the trial court’s next hearing on the CBI’s case against Chavan and the 11 other accused was scheduled for January 8. His supporters in the Congress still blame the party’s internal politics for accusations levelled against him in the case. But Chavan does not want to be drawn into a conversation on this aspect. “I see it all as a big accident. I’m trying to forget it and ensure it does not repeat itself,” he said.

Governor K Sankaranarayanan’s stance

On December 17, 2013, the erstwhile Governor, K Sankaranarayanan, rejected the CBI’s request for sanction to prosecute Chavan on either count. He observed that he had carefully considered the entire CBI report, documents and the statements placed before him by the CBI while considering the matter.

Stating that at the time of the approval of the membership of his in-laws to the society, Chavan was neither the chief minister or the revenue minister, Sankaranarayanan had ruled, “I have not found any nexus in the documents produced before me to even prima facie appear that this grant of membership was a gratification or a quid pro quo for whatever actions were taken by Chavan. No document or oral evidence of any witness contains any evidence to even prima facie show that there is a nexus or even so that the proposal of quid pro quo was a brain child of Chavan.”

On the CBI’s second count, he ruled, “What is crucial is that the application of the (society’s) architects about seeking the relaxation of the 15 per cent deduction from the final (FSI) computations passed through the MMRDA, the MCGM and the urban development department. In my view the aforesaid material (placed by the CBI) is inadequate to even prima facie reach any conclusion as to the guilt of Chavan as alleged by the CBI. I have not found any material which would disclose the existence of even a prima facie case against Chavan on this second count.”

CBI’s U-turn

A month later, on January 15, 2014, the CBI first approached the trial court for dropping Chavan’s name from the list of the accused, citing the Governor’s order refusing permission to prosecute Chavan. But on October 8, 2015, it filed a fresh proposal for permission to prosecute Chavan, relying upon findings of the two-man judicial commission, which were made public by the previous Congress-led government on December 20, 2013, and a November 19,2014 order of a single judge of the High Court that had rejected a plea to drop Chavan as an accused as “additional material”.

Governor Vidyasagar Rao’s stance

On February 4, 2016, Rao reviewed his predecessor’s order, and granted sanction to prosecute Chavan. He relied on the “additional material” cited by the CBI to overturn Sankaranarayanan’s decision. The commission’s report had concluded that “Ashok Chavan had given clearances/permissions in the matter of Adarsh CHS as quid pro quo”. Rao observed the prima facie a case existed against Chavan. The HC order on November 19, 2014, while rejecting permission for dropping Chavan as an accused, had observed, “It cannot be a coincidence that two of the close relatives of Chavan got two flats worth crores of rupees according to the market value, by investing much lesser amount as compared to the market value.” Rao relied on this as well while granting permission.

HC’s position

On Friday, the Bombay HC observed that Rao had no jurisdiction to review his predecessor’s order in absence of fresh material. It ruled that the judicial commission’s report or the order passed by the High Court’s single bench were “not admissible in evidence or capable of being converted into evidence and therefore could not be considered”.

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