Housing scam: 2 ex-Maharashtra ministers convicted; one gets 7 years in jail, fined ₹100 crore
Former Maharashtra ministers Suresh Jain and Gulabrao Deokar were found guilty for their involvement in the multi-crore ‘Gharkul’ housing scam and sentenced to jail for seven years and five years, respectively, by a Dhule sessions court on Saturday. As many as 46 others, including some former municipal councillors, were also given jail terms between three and seven years by the court.
Special judge Srushti Neelkanth also imposed a fine of Rs100 crore on Shiv Sena leader Jain for irregularities in the Rs29-crore housing project scam when he was state housing minister in the 1990s.
Soon after the court pronounced its verdict, all 48 convicts, who were present in the court, were taken into custody.
Before delivering her judgement, the special judge asked the lawyers of the accused whether they had anything to say.
The lawyers pleaded that their clients were not guilty, had nothing to do with the scam, many were ill or aged, and should be pardoned.
Demanding punishment for all accused, special public prosecutor Pravin Chavan argued that the accused had conspired and committed the crime in a cohesive manner, passed a resolution for promoting a housing scheme when there was no suitable space available with the intention to profit from public money.
Besides Jain and Deokar, there were a total of 52 accused in the case. Three accused died during the pendency of the trial and one is still absconding.
The case, which was originally being tried in Jalgaon, was transferred by the Supreme Court to Dhule to prevent influencing of witnesses and ensure fairness.
Jain was arrested in March 2012 as the scam perpetrated when he was a minister during the previous Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government (1995-1999), and was jailed for over a year before being released on bail.
Former Nationalist Congress Party minister Deokar was arrested in May 2012 and spent around three years behind bars before getting bail. He was a councillor in the Jalgaon Municipal Council between 1995 and 2000.
The duo, along with the other 50 accused, had favoured Khandesh Builders who were awarded a prestigious affordable housing project for slum dwellers under the Gharkul scheme in 1999.
Of the planned 11,000 homes, only 1,500 were completed and the then municipal commissioner of Jalgaon, Pravin Gedam lodged a police complaint in February 2006.
The Jalgaon Municipal Council had availed a loan of Rs110 crore from the HUDCO for the housing scheme, slated to come up in various localities in the city in northern Maharashtra.
By 2001, the irregularities running into crores of rupees, unreasonable delays in the project, lack of action against the builder and contractors, and other aspects were exposed.
After the original complaint was lodged, the Jalgaon Police investigated the case for six years and it emerged that the payments made to the builder were routed to companies actually controlled by Jain, his family and associates.
The scam was also probed by different commissions of enquiry and social crusader Anna Hazare had raised the issue.
“It is good to see that a politician is convicted in a corruption case, albeit after 20 years. We have seen many ministers and politician facing corruption charges but this is perhaps the first case of conviction of a politician. Jain has always been in controversies over corruption charges, but still political parties have always been eager to induct him in the party to gain control in Jalgaon,” said political analyst Hemant Desai.
Satish Patil, NCP’s district president, said, “We respect the honourable court and accept the verdict, but Deokarsaab has maintained since the beginning that he signed the proposal under pressure as a head of local body two decades ago. I do not know if his stand effectively came before the court, but eventually the court verdict is supreme.”
HT contacted multiple Shiv Sena spokespersons, who refused to comment on the issue.
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