Maharashtra ministers offer to quit over graft claims, but CM Devendra Fadnavis won’t let them go
The Opposition termed the resignations and the CM’s subsequent refusal as “political drama to shield the tainted ministers”mumbai Updated: Aug 13, 2017 01:48 IST
A day after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis annou-nced a probe against two of his cabinet colleagues, housing minister Prakash Mehta and industries minister Subhash Desai offered to resign on Saturday. The two ministers visited Fadnavis at his official residence, Varsha, but the chief minister refused to accept their resignations and said they should face a probe in their current capacities.
The Opposition termed the resignations and the CM’s subsequent refusal as “political drama to shield the tainted ministers”.
The accepted precedent is that once a probe is announced, the minister concerned has to resign or at least relinquish the department, which he heads and is linked to the allegations he faces. However, in case of BJP’s Mehta and Shiv Sena’s Desai, both will continue to head the housing and industries departments, respectively, even as an inquiry is held into their functioning as heads of these ministries and the decisions they took.
“I had refuted allegations against me, in the Vidhan Bhavan. Following that, an inquiry was announced yesterday. I decided to offer my resignation to the CM as I felt until this probe is complete, I should not be in office,” said Desai. “But Fadnavis refused to accept the resignation. I have now decided to face the inquiry with utmost transparency.”
Fadnavis spoke to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and both agreed that the resignation should not be accepted. Thackeray informed the media about the joint decision.
Mehta, too, told HT, “I went to the chief minister with my resignation on Saturday morning, but he told me that it is not needed, and I should face the inquiry.”
The ministers have been under fire over allegations of graft and irregularities, with the Opposition hitting out at them during the monsoon session of the state legislature. Fadnavis, on the last day of the session on Friday, finally announced a probe to be conducted by the Lokayukta against Mehta, and an independent inquiry against Desai. The details of Desai’s probe have not yet been announced. Fadnavis had said the Lokayukta would be first asked if he was willing to conduct the probe against Desai, and if not, an independent probe would be announced.
Thackeray, while speaking to the media on Saturday, defended Desai. “This precedent of accepting resignations on the strength of just Opposition’s allegations is not good for the state. Those making allegations are themselves accused of graft,” he said. “It is time to initiate serious action in past cases of graft whether it is the Rs70,000-crore irrigation scam and other cases.”
Thackeray added that Desai had been targeted despite “doing good work”.
“Desai met me on Friday and he said he wanted to resign on moral grounds. I told him he can do that, but today [Saturday] morning, the CM spoke to me and we agreed that this [resignation] was unnecessary,” said Thackeray.
There was speculation that Sena’s offer of resignation would put pressure on the BJP to also ask Mehta to quit. However, for now, it seems both the ruling parties have closed their ranks around the ministers facing probes.
“This is a cover-up. For starters, there is no substance in ordering a probe by Lokayukta or any other independent probe. We had demanded a judicial inquiry,” said Nawab Malik, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) spokesperson. “The Lokayukta’s office in Maharashtra has limited powers and this does not include independent powers to investigate, seize evidence or even summon witnesses. The Lokayukta’s jurisdiction does not include the chief minister.”
Malik and Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant raised the issue of how the chief minister would remain out of the ambit of an inquiry against Mehta, when in the Tardeo slum redevelopment project, the housing minister had in the file noted that the CM had been appraised before taking the decision.
“This inquiry is a farce and the resignations are a political drama that cannot hide the fact that this government is standing on weak moral ground,” said Sawant. “Both the BJP and Sena are two-faced when it comes to stance over corruption. The CM had given Mehta a clean chit even before instituting an inquiry against him.”
Mehta is under attack over a series of allegations in slum redevelopment projects for allegedly favoring builders. In the Ghatkopar case, the minister clubbed a transit camp development project with six other slum pockets for a larger slum rehabilitation scheme, overruling objections of his department. HT had reported how this decision could have been beneficial for a certain developer, who had earlier got the bid to develop the transit camp. In another case of slum redevelopment in Tardeo, the minister had taken a decision overruling objections by his department to transfer building rights from the slum dwellers of this project to another project, which could have led to a windfall of thousands of crores for the developer concerned. In this case, the minister had noted in a file that the chief minister had been appraised before taking the decision. Later, Mehta backtracked and claimed he was mistaken and this issue had not been discussed with the chief minister.
Desai is facing allegations of denotifying nearly 30,000 acres of land earmarked for industrial use in Nashik district. The opposition had alleged that this decision benefitted certain builders.