Over the last couple of months, the Maharashtra government has been under pressure from the Opposition, which has raised charges of corruption against three senior ministers. The chief minister has ordered probes against two of them:
Prakash Mehta, 58 (Housing Minister)
Mehta is seen as the BJP’s Gujarati face in the current council of ministers. A former Mumbai BJP president, he is known as a networker with clout both at home and in Delhi. Now, however, he faces a probe ordered by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over corruption charges in a housing project. For the six-time MLA from Ghatkopar East, Mumbai, it is one of three major projects in which his role has been questioned by the Opposition.
The Lokayukta will probe Mehta’s role in the MP Mills Compound project at Tardeo. The charge is that Mehta violated Development Control rules and cleared the transfer of building rights, originally meant for slum redevelopment, to the construction of tenements for project-affected people. This, the Opposition alleges, helped a private developer make a profit of Rs 500 crore. What makes it additionally controversial is an alleged noting by Mehta in the project file that “I have apprised the CM”. Since then, the government has said the CM was never apprised about the project; Mehta too has said in the assembly that the file had not been brought to the CM for discussion.
Another controversial housing project is in his constituency, Ghatkopar, where Shri Sai Nidhi Pvt Ltd was awarded work under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority. The Opposition in the assembly has highlighted a list of beneficiaries who allegedly include the names of Mehta’s son Harsh and his relatives. Another allegation relates to sanctioning of a plot in suburban Ghatkopar to Nirmal Holdings — this after the government had taken it back in 2016 since the developer was allegedly not using it for the stated purpose.
“I have not done anything wrong,” insists Mehta.
Says former Congress chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, “If a cabinet minister continues even after misleading the CM, it is clear that someone at the Centre is protecting him. What is the nexus and why are they not acting?”
Vinod Tawde, 54 (Education Minister)
The Maharashtra cabinet’s most senior minister, who belongs to the BJP, is under fire from the Opposition for an unprecedented delay in the Mumbai University results for 2017. Although he has ordered a probe and sought to defend himself by saying the university introduced online screening of papers without adequate preparation, leading to the delay, this is not the only controversy over which the Opposition has targeted him in the last 2½ years. Tawde, who holds the portfolios of both school education and higher & technical education, besides others, was once accused of having secured a fake degree. He graduated in electronics engineering from Pune’s Dnyaneshwar Vidyapeeth, which is not affiliated to AICTE or the state Directorate of Technical Education; Bombay High Court said in a 2005 order it does does not have the right to award degrees. Other controversies involve his department’s decision to award a contract without e-tendering worth Rs 191 crore for fire extinguishers in schools. Although Tawde had repeatedly dismissed allegations against him, they have often caused embarrassment to the government.
Tawde, who rose from students politics, has been Leader of the Opposition in Legislative Council earlier. In 2014, he was elected MLA from Borivili.
Subhash Desai, 75 (Industries Minister)
The Shiv Sena veteran faces a probe over the denotification of land. Congress and NCP leaders have alleged corruption in the denotification of 30,000 acres industrial land that had been acquired by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), which they say is worth Rs 50,000 crore. “The process of denotification was to help private developers,” alleges NCP leader Ajit Pawar. The CM has ordered an investigation in the entire land acquisition process.
Desai, who has said he followed the land acquisition model of the previous Congress-NCP government, is known to have been loyal to Bal Thackeray and his family. Though part of the Shiv Sena’s core team, he is seen as having lost some of his influence in recent years. In the last assembly elections, he lost from Goregaon — to the BJP. It was a huge setback to the Shiv Sena in a seat that he had won three times earlier. Desai is currently a Legislative Council member.