The state government on Wednesday suspended senior IAS officer and incumbent Gondia district collector Pradip Kalbhor and Gondia zilla parishad chief executive officer Yeshwant Gedam following an uproar in the Assembly over alleged large-scale irregularities in conversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural property in Bhandara district of eastern Vidarbha.
The Maharashtra revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat admitted prima facie gross irregularities in land conversion in Bhandara district before the House. Thorat said the government has already constituted an enquiry into the matter through the present Bhandara district collector Sachindra Pratap Singh.
The then in-charge Bhandara collector Kalbhor and the then additional collector Gedam illegally converted 490-acre agricultural land as non-agricultural within nine days. Surprisingly, when the irregularities were pointed out to the government, Gedam, the prime accused in the case, was “rewarded” as the post of Gondia CEO.
Gedam was in the news last week for lodging “false” complaints of violations under SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act against the office-bearers of Gondia Zilla Parishad when they questioned serious irregularities in local-self government, including illegal recruitment of engineers. All the Gondia ZP office-bearers are now in jail on a formal complaint by Gedam.
The issue also figured in the Assembly on Tuesday. The chief minister Prithviraj Chavan expressed concern over the issue and assured the House to look into the matter.
Raising the issue during the question hour, BJP members Devendra Fadnavis, Sudhakar Deshmukh, Sudhir Munganttiwar and others alleged that Gedam and Kalbhor converted several acres of agricultural land into non-agricultural after taking Rs. 4-lakh per acre of land converted as bribe. “They converted the entire land into non-agricultural land within nine days without taking permission of town planning, national highways authority and other concerned agencies,” they said and insisted for the suspension of both the officers.
Earlier, the House witnessed noisy scenes when the minister tried to pacify agitated members and said that the government would take action only after an enquiry. The opposition refused to listen to the minister and trooped into the well shouting slogans that led to the adjournment of the House thrice.
The minister informed that Kalbhor and Gedam converted several acres of agricultural land of Bela, Muzbi, Shahapur, Jawahanagar, Moregaon, Ashok Nagar and other neighbouring villages of Bhandara district into non-agricultural land. “The irregularities were found in the prima facie investigation and now an enquiry committee, headed by the district collector is probing the matter,” he said.
The opposition members pointed out that when the government admitted to the irregularities in the matter, why it was not suspending the accused senior officials. They created a ruckus when the minister talked about the irregularities of both the officers, but refused to suspend them.
Leader of the opposition, Eknath Khadse and senior BJP member Munganttiwar alleged Kalbhor even beat up an MSEB officer over a trivial issue under the influence of alcohol, a few days ago. “An FIR was lodged against him,” they said and asked that why the government was protecting such an erring officer.
Subhash Desai (Shiv Sena) said that without the suspension of both the officers, a proper enquiry into the matter was impossible. As opposition was bent for the suspension of the officers, Thorat finally announced the same in the house.
Council adjourned nine times in absence of ministers
Perhaps first time in the history of Maharashtra legislature, the legislative council was adjourned nine times on Wednesday over the absence of concerned minister in the House during the discussion on drought in the state, particularly in the Marathwada region.
Initiating the discussion in the council, the Shiv Sena member Divakar Raote pointed out to the chairman of house, Shivajirao Deshmukh that neither the concerned cabinet minister nor the state minister was present in the House for a reply. This led to uproarious scenes in the house and the house was adjourned for five minutes.
When the house re-assembled, both the ministers were again missing that again led to the adjournment of the house and it was repeated eight more times. The opposition members charged the government with a casual approach on a very important issue and sought his intervention.
Intervening into the matter, the chairman Deshmukh expressed displeasure over it and directed the parliamentary minister that such things should not repeated in the house.
The parliamentary affairs minister Harshavardhan Patil regretted on the issue and assured the house that it should not be repeated again.