Shiv Sena Minister Arjun Khotkar is the latest minister to face allegations of corruption. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday accused Khotkar of a Rs600 crore scam in the Jalna Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), of which he has been the chairman from the past nine years.
Khotkar is accused of undervaluing the sale of galas — commercial units or shops — in the APMC market, thus causing a loss of Rs600 crore to the APMC exchequer. The minister denied the allegations and insisted that he adopted a transparent procedure to allot the units.
“The sales were done in a transparent manner after advertising in newspapers and completing the formalities. There is no corruption involved,” said Khotkar.
Addressing the media, AAP national spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon blamed Khotkar for running the APMC like a private fiefdom. “Of the 1,500 galas in the Jalna APMC, 250 are owned by Khotkar’s family and close associates.There are many others who are shown as owning multiple galas though they cannot afford them. These people are just Khotkar’s frontmen,” said Menon.
She accused Khotkar of siphoning off the funds generated from the sale of these galas by deliberately undervaluing them. “Though these properties can be sold for Rs20 lakh to Rs75 lakh, they are shown as being sold at Rs5 lakh on paper. “The proceeds of these sales are pocketed by Khotkar,” she added.
The Devendra Fadnavis government has been in the dock as more than a dozen ministers have faced corruption charges in the past two years.Senior minister Eknath Khadse quit the cabinet due to such charges. Khotkar is the second Shiv Sena minister to face charges after Ravindra Waikar.
The AAP called upon Fadnavis and Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray to ensure Khotkar’s immediate sacking from the council of ministers.
“Balasaheb sacked a senior minister accused of corruption. Now it is time for Uddhav Thackeray to prove he is worthy successor of Balasaheb,” she added.
Khotkar has also been accused of detracting from the sole purpose of the APMC formation, which aims to provide a platform for sale of agriculture produce. The Jalna APMC is being used for non-agricultural purposes such as steel, pipes, furniture, automobiles, textile showrooms. There are also plans for a multiplex as well as petrol pump in the premises.
Khotkar said that such activities were permitted as the area was a commercial one. “No rules have been broken,” he added.
Even the audit committee has been critical of the Jalna APMC’s functioning. Despite negative reports, no action has been taken to rectify errors.