Maharashtra water supply and sanitation minister Babanrao Lonikar may be under the scanner over his educational qualification, in what is turning out to be a disturbing trend in political circles. The minister’s affidavits filed in the last three assembly elections were found to have several discrepancies.
While drawing parallels with the case of former Delhi law minister Jitender Tomar — who was arrested on Tuesday in a fake degree case — the Congress demanded Lonikar’s resignation for lying under oath.
The minister, who is a four-term MLA from Partur in Jalna, claimed to have cleared the first year of Bachelor of Arts (FYBA) from Yashwantrao Chavan Open University (YCOU) in 1991 in affidavits submitted to the Election Commission (EC) in 2004 and 2009. However, the affidavit submitted in the 2014 assembly elections differs from these earlier declarations — they state he has studied only till Class 5. According to his personal website, he has a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree.
The Opposition trained its guns on the minister, demanding his resignation. “Lonikar is Maharashtra’s Jitender Tomar and we want the government to take action similar to what was demanded by the BJP in the Delhi case. The BJP should immediately sack its minister because it had demanded Tomar’s resignation,” said Sachin Sawant, Congress spokesperson.
Lonikar said there was no illintent behind the declaration. “It is true I have studied till Class 5, but there was no fabrication or forgery of documents like Tomar. I had appeared for my FYBA after clearing the entrance exam at YCOU in 1991, but could not clear the exam till 1999, when I was first elected to the Assembly. Since I was still an FYBA student, I continued to mention it in the affidavits in the 2004 and 2009 elections. When I realised it was not possible for me to clear the exam, I stated I had studied till Class 5 in my 2014 election affidavit,” Lonikar told HT.
The Congress is also not buying Lonikar’s defense. “The qualification mentioned in the affidavit should be always of the last exam cleared. If he has mentioned his qualification as BA in the affidavit, it means he has cleared it. His claims are unacceptable,” Sawant said, adding his party is considering legal action against the state minister.
According to an EC officer, the minister can face action under the Representative of Peoples Act for submitting false information to the commission and under the Indian Penal Code for lying under oath. He said any MLA found guilty of false declaration may face disqualification.
In the past, Ambernath’s NCP MLA Kisan Kathore had faced action for providing false information in his 2004 assembly election affidavit. The high court had his election set aside in 2007. He had moved the apex court, which upheld the high court order in 2014.