Single-member panel to probe graft allegations against Maha minister
The panel, which will comprise retired Bombay high court (HC) judge Kailas Uttamchand Chandiwal, has been given a timeline of six months to submit a report.
Maharashtra Government on Tuesday appointed a single-member committee to probe former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh’s allegations that home minister Anil Deshmukh ran an extortion racket and instructed his officers to collect up to ₹100 crore from establishments like bars, restaurants and hookah bars in the city.
Singh made these allegations in a letter dated March 20, which was addressed to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and other senior bureaucrats and politicians.
Deshmukh denied the charges, even as the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded his resignation following these allegations. The ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government however, rallied behind Deshmukh and decided last week that a judicial probe will be ordered into the affair.
The panel, which will comprise retired Bombay high court (HC) judge Kailas Uttamchand Chandiwal, has been given a timeline of six months to submit a report. The high-level probe committee has not been constituted under Commission of Inquiry Act and thus the government is not required to make the report, or the actions taken on the basis of its findings, public.
The panel has been tasked to examine whether Singh submitted proof to establish that Deshmukh or any staffer from his office committed any offence/ misconduct as alleged in the letter; whether specific allegations raised by Singh, citing the messages from assistant commissioner of police Sanjay Patil, and assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze had any truth and merited investigation by the state Anti-Corruption Bureau or any other agency; as well as to offer any recommendations that it deems fit.
“The Hon’ble Home Minister expressed to Shri Vaze that he had a target to accumulate ₹100 crore a month. For achieving the aforesaid target, the Hon’ble Home Minsiter told Shri Vaze that there are about 1,750 bars, restaurants and other establishments in Mumbai and if a sum of Rs. 2-3 lakhs each was collected from each of them a monthly collection of Rs. 40-50 crores were achievable. The Hon’ble Home Minister added that the rest of the collection could be made from other sources,” Singh’s unsigned letter stated, referring to a purported meeting that took place in the home minister’s official residence Dyaneshwar in mid-February.
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Vaze, the former head of the Crime Intelligence Unit of the Mumbai Crime Branch, is in the custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for his alleged role in planting explosives in an SUV outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s house in February. He is also suspected to be the mastermind in the murder of Thane businessman Mansukh Hiran, who was linked to that SUV.
Singh was transferred out of the Police Commissioner’s office on March 17, and made Commandant General of Home Guards, Maharashtra state. Deshmukh told reporters that the transfer was not “routine” but owing to “serious and unpardonable mistakes” committed by a few officers in Mumbai police Commissionerate.
Deshmukh refuted the allegations in a series of tweets as soon as reports of Singh’s letter surfaced.
“When his involvement was getting clear in the Mukesh Ambani bomb scare case as well as in the case of Mansukh Hiran’s death and possibilities of him getting linked [to both] directly [became clear], former police commissioner Param Bir Singh made false allegations against me to save himself from further action.”
The letter quoted a message exchange purportedly between Singh and ACP Patil regarding a meeting that allegedly took place at Deshmukh’s official residence, in which other officials, including the home minister’s personal secretary Sanjiv Palande, were also present. The home minister allegedly gave similar instructions to Patil and another officer, DCP Raju Bhujbal.
“Shri Patil along with DCP Bhujbal were called at the official residence of the Home Minister for a meeting. While ACP Patil and DCP Bhujbal were made to wait outside the Home Minister’s cabin, Mr. Palande went inside the chamber of the Home Minister and after coming out took ACP Patil and DCP Bhujbal on the side. Palande informed ACP Patil that the Home Minister was targeting a collection of ₹40-50 crores which was possible through an approximate 1,750 bars, restaurants and establishments operating in Mumbai. I was informed by ACP Patil about the demand to make collections for the Home Minister,” the letter said regarding a meeting that purportedly took place on March 4.
The letter further stated that senior politicians including Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, and other senior bureaucrats were aware of some “misdeeds and malpractices” raised by Singh.
Singh had first approached the Supreme Court and later the Bombay High Court seeking a probe by the CBI against Deshmukh. Earlier on Tuesday, the HC said it would hear on Wednesday the Public Interest Litigation filed by Singh.
In a high-level meeting of ministers last week, it was decided that the probe would be constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act. However, it wasn’t.
“Since the probe is not constituted under Commission of Inquiry Act, it is not binding on the government to make the report or the actions taken on the basis of its findings public. During [Devendra] Fadnavis-led BJP rule, a report on the probe on allegations against former revenue minister Eknath Khadse was not made public as it similarly had no statutory obligation on the government,” said a senior state official.
“The allegations made are not only serious but shocking. For the first time in the history of Maharashtra, a director general level officer has made such allegations and that too with chats in which demand for money was made. The chat is an evidence to what Singh has said. We are of the view that the home minister should immediately resign from his position and if he is not ready then the chief minister should take his resignation” Devendra Fadnavis had said, when the allegations first surfaced.
Pawar however held two press conferences pointing out inconsistencies in the claims made in the letter. “In view of fresh evidence that proves that Deshmukh was not in Mumbai, it would not be fair to take his resignation… The BJP’s demand for home minister’s resignation has no substance… I am absolutely clear that allegations made against Deshmukh were incorrect as he was in Nagpur,” Pawar had said during one of the press conferences.