Controversial land deal: Eknath Khadse scrapped meet’s minutes before quitting, Fadnavis signed too
A day before former revenue minister Eknath Khadse resigned over allegations of graft and conflict of interest in the Bhosari land deal, the minister had ordered that the minutes of a controversial meeting held on April 12, 2016, be scrapped.
HT has accessed a copy of the order, issued on June 3, 2016, which cancelled the minutes of the April meeting, stating that a high court petition in the matter was pending and no action could be taken to influence the case.
It also said that the chief minister’s review was necessitated as the issue pertained to two departments — industries and revenue.
The order bears the signatures of both Khadse and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
“The industries department should have intimated the government that a high court petition in the matter is pending before issuing a notice for the meeting,” says the order.
“Since a petition is pending, no action can be taken that is seen to influence the hearing and as such the draft minutes of the meeting have been cancelled. After the high court’s final order in the case, a decision can be taken about the future course of action.” The minutes had been cancelled amid Opposition parties’ demands that Khadse should be sacked over conflict of interest.
Khadse resigned on June 4, 2016.
In its recently-submitted investigation closure report, Pune’s Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) Pune said that directives issued by Khadse in the April meeting could not be considered as conclusively proof of impropriety as they were in a draft format and had later been cancelled by the minister.
HT reported on Friday that the ACB’s report, submitted in April 2018, had given a clean chit to the minister. It concluded there was no evidence that the latter was aware that Khadse’s wife, Mandakini, and son-in-law, Girish Choudhary, had purchased the plot.
When asked why he had ordered the minutes to be scrapped, Khadse said, “After it came to light that a High Court case in the matter was pending, we scrapped the draft minutes of the meeting. They had in any case not been finalised or issued with my signature. This had to be endorsed by the CM as it pertained to two departments, so the order was also issued with his and my signature. I had submitted this document to the ACB.”
The chief minister was not available for comment on the issue.
The controversy surrounding Khadse pertains to the purchase of a three-acre plot in Bhosari, near Pune, by for ₹3.75 crore despite the prevalent market rate being ₹30 crore. Bought by Khadse’s wife and son-in-law, the plot’s ownership was contentious as the industries department had acquired it in 1971, but the final award of the plot was not granted and the owner had not been compensated for it.
The controversial meeting of April 12, 2016, was held a month after Khadse’s family paid an initial amount of Rs 50 lakh to finalise the purchase. The ACB report confirms that Hasnain Ukani, one of the owner’s heirs, had been paid Rs 50 lakh on March 11, 2016 by Khadse’s family. “This gives rise to suspicion that the meeting was held by Khadse to benefit his family,” says the report.
At the meeting, Khadse ordered that the industries department return the plot to the original land owner or give him compensation for the plot as per the 2013 land acquisition law. This was recorded in the draft minutes of the meeting issued by the Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation (MIDC). However, ACB in its investigation report also said that the draft minutes cannot be considered conclusive in the light of them being cancelled later by the minister and because the directives had not been implemented.
Activists have questioned the validity of the order issued on June 3, 2016. “Even if the minutes were cancelled, it does not take away from the fact that the minister held this meeting after his family had struck a deal for the same plot. That’s clear conflict of interest,” said Anjali Damania, who has filed a protest petition against the investigation in a special court. “Several angles have not been investigated in this case by the ACB,” she said.