Will clean chit from panel facilitate Eknath Khadse’s comeback into Maharashtra cabinet?
Mumbai city news: His comeback may face hurdles as the ACB has filed an FIR against him in connection with the Pune land dealmumbai Updated: Jul 06, 2017 01:12 IST
Over the last week, speculations have been rife that senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse, who had to step down from the cabinet following allegations of graft and conflict of interest in a land deal at Bhosari in Pune, will be taken back in the fold after the monsoon session of the state legislature.
On Wednesday, this speculation gained strength following the news that the one-man Dinkar Zoting Commission had submitted its report in the Bhosari land deal to the state government. HT had reported that the report was submitted on June 30.
However, despite the optimism shown in some BJP circles, Khadse’s comeback may not be easy. Even if the Zoting Commission exonerates Khadse, an FIR has been filed in the case against him by the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB). The agency was asked to file this report ‘independently and without reference to the inquiry conducted by the commission’ by the Bombay high court after a PIL was filed by Pune-based activist Hemant Gawande, the whistleblower in this case. Unless the ACB clears his name, an induction back in the cabinet may be difficult. Two PILs — one by Gawande and another by activist Anjali Damania — filed against Khadse are also pending in the high court.
While there has been no official statement on the findings in the report, sources indicated that the commission had passed strictures against the former minister over ‘conflict of interest’. Sources said that the strictures referred to the meetings held by Khadse with industry officials to push for a compensation for the three-acre plot in Bhosari barely a month before the land was brought by his wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Choudhary.
The industries department’s statements before the commission that this plot belonged to Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and as such the deal with Khadse family was illegal, is also likely to go against the former minister. However, the commission is said to have stopped short of recommending any criminal action against him.
If the commission lets Khadse go with just a mild rap, the decision to induct him would rest on chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the top brass in the party. Would Fadnavis induct Khadse, his rival, in the face of public opinion and ongoing criminal investigation? For now, the CM is not revealing his cards.
But, there are many others who feel the time is right to get the former revenue minister back in the cabinet.
“It is better to induct Khadse, one of our own, back in the cabinet rather than Congress’ Narayan Rane. During the recent farmers protests, we fell short due to lack of experience. Khadse with his over three decade experience in politics is helpful for the party,’’ said a senior BJP leader.
If one goes by past experience, like that of former CM Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh case, granting a clean chit is easier said than done.
The case against Khadse
Eknath Khadse had faced allegations of conflict of interest after his wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhari bought a three-acre plot in Bhosari near Pune. The industries department challenged the deal, saying the plot was in the possession of MIDC and even leased out to 14 other units.
The owner of the plot had challenged the industries department’s claims of acquiring the plot and filed complaint with the revenue department and in the Bombay high court for compensation of this land. Khadse as the then revenue minister held meetings with officials from the industries revenue departments to expedite compensation to the owner. A month after this, his kin brought the land for Rs3.75 crore far less than the market value of Rs23 crore. The whistle blower had claimed that Khadse wanted to reap benefits under the new land acquisition law that compensates the owner four times the value of the plot.
Khadse had first challenged allegations, saying the deal was legitimate
In a U-turn, the former minister before the commission had said that he had no idea that the plot was brought by his family until much later.