The Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to list the steps taken to probe the “serious” accusations of corruption and misuse of public office made against former state minister Eknath Khadse by activist Anjali Damania. A bench of Justices BR Gavai and MS Karnik said that if it finds that the state has taken required steps, then it might not continue hearing the PIL, but if it failed to do so, the court “cannot remain a silent spectator”.
It was hearing an application by BJP leader Khadse seeking that a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Damania and five others against him and his family members be dismissed as they were associated with political parties. The PIL, filed in July this year, had alleged that Khadse had misused his office and “amassed great wealth at the cost of public interest throughout his political career”. It had alleged that “Khadse and his relatives had purchased several land parcels through benami transactions and that the assets owned by him and his family were disproportionate to their incomes.” The PIL had sought that a “Special Investigation Team be constituted, or a judicial inquiry be initiated” to look into the allegations.
Khadse, however, argued through his counsel Darius Khambata that the PIL deserved to be “thrown out” of the court since the “petitioners were not bona fide”. Khambata alleged that since “Damania and three other petitioners were previously associated with the Aam Aadmi Party, and another petitioner was a working member of the Shiv Sena, they had approached court with the ulterior motive of exacting a political revenge against their rival BJP leader.” Besides, he argued, the petitioners had failed to disclose their political associations to the court at the time of filing the PIL.
“The rules of filing a PIL mandate that the petitioner must make full disclosure of his identity, motives, and also of any pending litigation against him or her. In the present case, not only are the members associated with rival political parties, but, they chose to suppress this fact before the court. “Also, there are several criminal defamation cases pending against Damania, which she refused to inform this court of,” Khambata argued. “There is no public interest in this plea and it is merely an act of political vendetta,” he said.
The petitioners’ counsel Mihir Desai however, argued that Damania and the others had resigned from their political posts in AAP much before filing of the PIL. He also said that Sena member Gajanan Malpure had approached HC merely as a “concerned citizen.” He also said that of the 27 cases of defamation pointed out by Khadse, Damania had “received notices in only three of the cases”. Desai also told the court that before filing the PIL, the petitioners had exhausted all other available remedies by filing complaints on the above allegations against Khadse before various state authorities including the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Jt Commissioner of the Economic Offences Wing, the Enforcement Directorate, and the income tax commissioner.
The bench noted that since the state government had acknowledged receiving the above complaints on November 10, 2016, the court was “expected to find out what the state had done so far in response to the complaints”. It said that while the rules mandated that the courts verify the bona fide of petitioners in PILs, it was also the court’s “constitutional duty to ensure that justice was done in all cases.” “Serious allegations have been made on affidavit by the petitioners against a senior BJP leader. If we find that the state has taken required steps then we might not continue hearing the PIL. “However, if we realise that the state has failed to take appropriate steps based on the complaints made by the petitioners, this court cannot remain a silent spectator,” Justice Gavai said.
HC has granted the state three weeks to file an affidavit listing down the action it has taken since receiving Damania’s complaints in November 2016.