Although the decision of governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao to sanction prosecution against state Congress president Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh scam spells trouble for the former CM, there will be a long legal battle before the CBI convicts him, if at all, in the case.
If Chavan is convicted in the case even by the lower court and sentenced to more than a two-year imprisonment, he can be disqualified as an MP and be barred from contesting the 2019 polls. The disqualification can continue for six more years after the acquittal in such a case under the Representation of People’s Act. This could put the senior Congress leader, one of the two MPs elected from Maharashtra in 2014 polls, out of political reckoning and deal a blow to the party that is relying on Chavan’s organisational and electoral skills for a comeback.
For starters, the governor’s sanction revising the stance taken by his predecessor K Sankaranarayanan in 2013 will have to stand legal scrutiny. Chavan, who has termed the sanction “political vendetta” and targeted the government for using the CBI for politics, said he will move court challenging the decision.
Legal opinion is divided on whether revising the sanction by treating the two-member Adarsh committee report as “fresh evidence” is tenable. A former advocate general told HT that revising the sanction of the governor, a constitutional authority, sets a bad precedent, as there is nothing to stop revising of sanctions every time a new government comes to power. “The commission report by itself cannot be considered as fresh evidence. It is recommendatory in nature, limited by the Commission of Inquiry Act, and was also rejected by the then government. The Srikrishna Commission report, for instance, was reopened after an injunction from the apex court. However, if the CBI can show new evidence by way of investigations on the basis of the report, the sanction can be considered valid,” he said.
“It’s a long shot to get Chavan convicted under the existing IPC sections. Applying Prevention of Corruption Act will be of use to prove quid pro quo. Let’s see if the CBI can produce tangible fresh evidence,’’ said a former IPS officer-turned-lawyer and activist, who has been at the forefront of exposing the scam. He said charging Chavan under the PCA would need the Lok Sabha speaker’s sanction, as he is a sitting MP.
The main sticking points in the state’s recommendation to prosecute Chavan are the CBI’s flip-flops in the case. The CBI, in January 2014, decided against reviewing the governor’s decision on grounds that it did not have “fresh evidence” to make such a plea. By January 2014, the Adarsh commission report was in public domain. Despite this, in March 2014, the CBI moved the HC, seeking to drop Chavan’s name from the charge sheet on the basis of former governor’s refusal.
The change in CBI’s stance first came in April 2015, after the new government came to power. BJP MP Kirit Somaiya’s letters to the state, governor and CBI in March 2015 are being viewed as instrumental in it. It was Somaiya, who first charged the CBI for ignoring the commission report. The review application came in October 2015.
However, the state is convinced it has a strong case. “We were told by the advocate general the commission report and the HC ruling in 2014 that refused to drop Chavan’s name in the scam are sufficient to seek review of the sanction. The governor independently sought AG’s opinion,” said a BJP minister.