The Bombay high court on Tuesday rapped the Maharashtra government over the delay in initiating a police probe into the allegations of an illegal land deal against BJP leader and former revenue minister Eknath Khadse. It also directed the state to submit a report on the steps taken so far, by February 6.
A division bench of justice Ranjit More and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi rejected the state’s submission that it was unable to initiate a probe as all the “papers related to the case were currently being supervised by a judicial committee” constituted in July last year to look into allegations against Khadse.
The bench said it would not accept any of the excuses offered by the state because it saw no difficulty in the government asking the committee for case papers.
“You are the state, and the committee was constituted by this very state so what stops you from getting copies of the case papers?” the bench said. “This is the last chance the court is granting you. Get the papers or do whatever else it takes to initiate a probe and inform us of the steps taken by the next date of hearing,” the bench said.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by a social activist Hemant Gavande alleging, among other things, that Khadse had purchased a three-acre plot at Bhosri, owned by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), in name of his kin for Rs3.75 crore as against the market price of Rs40 crore.
Gavande had first made these allegations in July 2016 and Khadse was forced to resign from his post of the state revenue minister soon after. The judicial committee, headed by retired Bombay HC judge Dinkar Zoting was constituted to conduct an inquiry.
Gavande, however, approached the HC arguing that the state police must act upon the complaint that he had registered against Khadse on the above allegations. He had also urged the court to direct the Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission, and the Income Tax department to take cognisance of the complaint.
In the last hearing earlier this month, the state had told HC that it hadn’t initiated an inquiry since the judicial committee report was yet to come and thus, it was “unclear” whether Khadse had indulged in any sort of illegality or misuse of his ministerial post.
The court, however, had said the state police must not wait for the committee report and instead begin an investigation from its own end. It had said at the time that the committee would merely conduct a “judicial inquiry and not a court inquiry,” thus, the police must conduct an independent inquiry.