Fresh allegations were levelled against Maharashtra Housing Minister Prakash Mehta that names of his family members were incorporated as beneficiaries of a slum redevelopment project in his constituency, which the Congress said amounted to a “conflict of interest”. Mehta, an MLA from Ghatkopar (East), is already facing an inquiry ordered by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for allegedly violating norms in a slum redevelopment project in south Mumbai.
Last evening, he denied all charges levelled against him. Raising the issue in the Assembly, Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (Congress) yesterday alleged, “Mehta’s company Shri Sai Nidhi Pvt Ltd. had undertaken an SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) project in Ghatkopar. The beneficiaries of the project are yet to get flats in the building which was constructed last year.”
“In the meantime, names of Mehta’s son Harsh and his relatives were inserted there as tenants. Mehta used his influence to get flats for his relatives. This is a conflict of interest,” he alleged. However, the Congress leader couldn’t complete his speech as BJP MLAs started shouting slogans, objecting to the allegation.
Senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said, “He (Patil) did not issue a notice to Mehta before raising the issue in the House today. Hence, the entire conversation should be expunged from the house record.” However, the speaker didn’t expunge the remarks. Parliamentary Affairs Minister and senior BJP leader Girish Bapat said the chief minister would discuss the issue with the opposition before setting up any inquiry against Mehta.
Raising the pitch for Mehta’s removal from the Cabinet, NCP leader Jayant Patil claimed there were fresh allegations against the minister every day and hence he should resign. “The government is not giving any assurance about the inquiry but is protecting the tainted minister. This is a serious issue when the government keeps boasting about the corruption-free governance,” Patil claimed.
Senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar said, “Another matter of corruption has come up against Mehta. The chief minister had assured that he would discuss with the opposition leaders the inquiry in the corruption matter. But he did not invite anyone.” “The minister has admitted that he has committed the mistake. If Radheshyam Mopalwar is removed from the post (of the managing director of the state-undertaking MSRDC), then why not the minister?” he asked.
“…Even Eknath Khadse (senior BJP leader) had resigned from the (Revenue) ministry after he was accused of corruption. Mehta should be removed from his post,” Pawar said. Mehta has been under fire ever since he allegedly allowed unauthorised transfer of extra building rights in the SRA project in south Mumbai, originally granted to slum dwellers, to project-affected people, apparently to favour a developer.
He had mentioned on the file of the project that he had kept Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in the loop about the transfer. Fadnavis denied that he had been informed about the issue. Patil on August 2 had also alleged that Mehta allotted a plot in suburban Ghatkopar to Nirmal Holdings this year. This plot had been taken back from the developer in 2016 by the state government for not using it for the intended purpose.
The ongoing monsoon session of the state legislature has been witnessing vociferous protests by the Congress and the NCP demanding Mehta’s ouster. In the Legislative Council, where the opposition has an upper hand numerically, the Leader of Opposition Dhananjay Munde (NCP) had warned the government of not letting the House function unless Mehta is removed from his post.
However, the chief minister has defended the minister. On Thursday, he told the Council that Mehta cannot be accused of corruption merely on the basis of the file noting made by him and that the allegations are “politically motivated”. Patil yesterday also alleged that Mehta forced police to change the name of his wife in an FIR lodged in Pantnagar Police Station in the city in connection with a dispute with a builder.
“Kishori Mehta, minister Prakash Mehta’s wife, owns a flat in Samyak Darshan in Kirol area of Ghatkopar. Manish Shah, who lives in the same building, is the owner of the building. After some dispute, Mehta, through a junior engineer in BMC (civic body) lodged an FIR against Shah. “Later, Mehta forced the police to change the name of his wife in the FIR. The name was changed to Kishor,” the Congress leader alleged.
Mehta denied all the charges in the Assembly late in the evening. “Though I was director of Sai Siddhi Pvt Ltd, I left the post before becoming the minister. Also, my son Harsh is an official tenant in that building. Allegations that my wife’s name was changed (in FIR) is also wrong. The flat belongs to my wife but my brother Kishor stays there,” Mehta said.