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Cong self-goal: How Manish Tewari didn’t do his homework on Anna

Task force set up by state govt gave clean chit to ‘whistleblower’ Hazare.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
August 18, 2011 2:01:24 am

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari’s allegation that Anna Hazare was corrupt from “head to toe” saw BJP leader Sushma Swaraj advising him in the Lok Sabha to exercise caution while making such comments. But caution,it seems,was not the only thing that Tewari overlooked when he picked on Hazare’s probity.

Not only was Tewari poorly prepared when it came to the facts of the case,he also overlooked a critical detail which overturns his entire argument. The Indian Express has found that a task force appointed by Maharashtra’s Congress-led government had not only absolved Hazare of any wrongdoing that could be punishable,but also called him a “whistleblower” and the offences of his charitable trusts “relatively minor and of a technical nature”.

Meanwhile,another Congress spokesman,Rashid Alvi,alleged today that the US was supporting Hazare’s movement.

The case referred to by Tewari relates to Hazare’s indictment by an inquiry commission probing corruption charges against four NCP ministers and Hazare in 2005. While the P B Sawant Commission,appointed in 2003 to probe these allegations against the ministers and their counter-allegations against Hazare,cited several instances of corruption or maladministration by all five,the state government appointed a task force led by former chief secretary D M Sukthankar to recommend action to be taken on the report.

The task force’s terms of reference were clear: to recommend any action in accordance with law and to determine whether any loss was caused to the state government by the acts of the five persons — Padamsinh Patil,Suresh Jain (now with the Shiv Sena),Nawab Mallik,Vijaykumar Gavit and Hazare.

The Sawant Commission had found some irregularities in four charitable Trusts run by Hazare. Among others,one Trust did not submit budgets as required,one submitted its audited accounts after a considerable delay,it kept fixed deposits in banks other than scheduled banks,there was non-consolidation of the accounts of various divisions of one Trust,a faulty procedure by an accountant,non-accounting of the interest on a fixed deposit of Rs 2 lakh.

While the Commission noted that Hazare had appeared to give a free hand to some of his activists,leading to their misconduct,it specifically noted that an expenditure of Rs 2.2 lakh from the funds of the Hind Swaraj Trust towards Hazare’s 60th birthday celebrations “was clearly illegal and amounted to corrupt practice”. Hazare’s defence that the sum was later repaid by a businessman was not accepted as this donation was also made to the trust and was hence the property of the Trust.

Based on these findings,the Sukthankar Task Force said,“Although,as correctly pointed out by the Commission,the expenditure… amounted to misapplication of funds of the Trust,was not authorised by the Trust Deed and was,therefore,beyond the authority of the Trust,we are not inclined to recommend any action,much less of prosecution,against Shri Hazare for the reason that Shri Hazare’s role is that of a whistleblower and he has been working in the spirit of a missionary to curb corruption by public servants,including ministers. This incident appears to us to be inadvertent. We feel that the observations made by the Commission against Shri Hazare are by themselves sufficient to chasten a person like him and to induce him to learn a lesson for the future to discipline and control his workers and followers…”

The report noted that several allegations against Hazare had not been part of the original inquiry and had been pressed subsequently after inspection of accounts that were made available by Hazare’s team. Further,the report said that while the functioning of Hazare’s Trusts had indeed shown breaches of various provisions of the Bombay Public Trusts Act,the offences are punishable with a fine of up to Rs 1,000. “With no intention whatsoever of belittling these provisions,it cannot be gainsaid that these offences are relatively minor and are of a technical nature.”

Adding that breaches of the Act are common among Trusts operating in rural areas due to ignorance and lack of administrative support,the report said,“Prosecution for every offence of each one of such technical breaches is neither practicable nor is it called for.” Advising the Charity Commissioner to keep these Trusts under surveillance for proper compliance,the report also said there was no indication of any malafide intention or dishonest motives of the trustees.

Timeline

* Sept 2003: Justice P B Sawant Commission of Inquiry appointed.

* Feb 2005: Sawant Commission report submitted. Holds Padamsinh Patil responsible for various offences relating to a sugar export scam; indicts Suresh Jain in functioning of Jalgaon District Central Co-operative Bank,Jalgaon Municipal Council and Jalgaon Khandesh Bhukamp Sahayata Nidhi Trust; indicts Nawab Malik in reconstruction of Jariwala Chawl property in Mahim; finds Vijaykumar Gavit guilty of maladministration.

* April 2005: Three-member task force headed by former chief secretary D M Sukthankar appointed.

* Sept 2005: Task force report submitted,says legal action may be taken only against Padamsinh Patil.

* Jan 2006: One more committee formed to study the report of the task force. Aurangabad bench stays implementation of task force report until the new committee’s report is submitted; interim stay yet to be vacated.

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