Senior BJP leader and Maharashtra revenue minister Eknath Khadse’s woes are mounting with more accusations of wrongdoing surfacing on Monday and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis looking for ways to minimise damage to government and party.
The two had an hour-long meeting after industries minister Subhash Desai of the Shiv Sena said land in Pune bought by Khadse’s kin belonged to the Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation (MIDC) and that he had no idea how the plot could be purchased when it belonged to the government.
There was more trouble for Khadse in the evening when social activist Anjali Damania alleged that he had links with controversial contractors involved in the Tapi irrigation project.
The row over the land deal could cost Khadse the revenue portfolio -- one of most important departments -- in the coming days, said sources in the BJP, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Khadse’s wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhary allegedly purchased the 1.68-hectare plot at Bhosari in Pune for Rs 3.75 crore on April 27, 2016. The plot already had 13 industrial units set up decades ago on 99-year leases from the MIDC. In a formal complaint to the Pune police on Monday, one Hemant Gawande alleged the land was purchased by the minister to claim compensation of up to Rs100 crore under the new Land Ceiling Act.
Desai’s claim that the land belongs to the MIDC puts Khadse in a spot even more.
An irked Khadse countered the claim: “In a letter to the industries department by the then MIDC CEO Bhushan Gagarani in 2012, it has been mentioned that the land does not belong to them as the sale was not completed in 1969. The letter has also mentioned that the owner of the land Abbas Ukani has been fighting for compensation for the last 45 years.” Desai had not studied the case before issuing the statement, Khadse said.
An MIDC official said the land deal was sound on legal grounds, but the issues of conflict of interest and quid pro quo remained. The official pointed out that the land was purchased though the compensation case was in the High Court, and that compensation to the owner would range between Rs40 crore and Rs70 crore depending on which Act was applied.
Khadse, however, told HT: “The land was purchased by paying the stamp duty and registration fee for the ready reckoner price of the land which was Rs23 crore. The owner of the land has given it to me in writing that Rs3.72 crore was the settlement price between us and him as he was not able to pursue the matter in the high court because he was aged and lived in far-off Kolkata.”
When Khadse met Fadnavis for more than an hour, he reportedly explained the entire issue to him and requested the CM to ensure that a formal FIR was not registered on Gawande’s complaint. Khadse, however, told the media that the meeting was to discuss the elctions to the legislative council and the Rajya Sabha. He also insisted that the reports of him losing the revenue portfolio were baseless.
In a related development, a Congress delegation led by city unit president Sanjay Nirupam met Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and demanded that Khadse should be sacked.
In the evening, Damania, a former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader instrumental in exposing both the irrigation and the Maharashtra Sadan scams, alleged that Khadse had links with large-scale irregularities in the Tapi irrigation project. She also alleged that Khadse’s family members were directors of a sugar factory purchased by two irrigation contractors. Khadse, however, described the allegation as baseless. “I was not even the irrigation minister when these contracts were awarded and hence there is no question of me favouring anyone,” he said.
Damania has threated to start a dharna agitation outside Fadnavis’ residence if action is not taken against Khadse.
Meanwhile, Desai’s statement could escalate the war between the BJP and the Sena. “The party high command has backed Desai to settle scores with Khadse who played a key role in snapping the 25-year-old ties between the two parties ahead of the Assembly election in 2014,” a Sena leader said on the condition of anonymity.