The Bombay High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to sitting Congress member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Ramesh Chaudhari saying prima facie the inquiry into whether he had submitted fake medical bills to get reimbursement of over Rs 20 lakh showed commission of cognisable offences.
Cognisable offences are offences of a serious, criminal nature, and in which the police can make an arrest without a warrant.
A division bench of Justice Bilal Nazki and Justice VK Tahilramani issued the notice to Chaudhari to give the MLA an opportunity to file his say before possibly ordering his prosecution.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by city-based social organisation Janhit Manch alleging several malpractices and irregularities in the medical bill reimbursements claimed by sitting and former legislators for their and their dependants' healthcare expenses.
The PIL had pointed out several instances of the alleged malpractices and irregularities going into lakhs of rupees.
After the high court took note of the serious allegations, the legislature instituted a high-powered committee to go into the reimbursement scheme.
The committee found irregularities in at least 17 cases involving more than Rs 53 lakh, which included 41 bills submitted by Ramesh Chaudhari.
Chaudhari's bills together totalled Rs 20,09,657.
The committee rejected all the 41 bills presented by the MLA representing Yaval assembly constituency in Jalgaon district.
It concluded his act may have amounted to cheating or misuse of government funds resulting in wrongful gains to the MLA and loss to the state exchequer.
Referring to the committee's findings and the fact that two medical officers have been dismissed for allegedly issuing fake bills to the MLA, the bench wondered why no action was taken against the MLA and only the services of the doctors terminated.
“You have only dismissed the medical officer, why has the MLA not been prosecuted?” said the court.
The Congress MLA was not prosecuted in spite of the legislature's order last month to the Public Health Department, which executes the scheme, to do so immediately.
All the money received by Chaudhari from 2004 by way of the reimbursements has already been recovered by the legislature.
Nearly Rs 5.5 lakh has also been recovered from three other sitting members, which includes the Shiv Sena's Dagdu Sakpal.
Now nearly Rs 30 lakh remains to be recovered from seven former members and the families of five deceased members of both houses of the legislature, said an affidavit filed by Principal Secretary to the State Legislature Anant Kalse.