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Minister in fix? Maharashtra poll panel asks agencies to look into cash seizure

Subhash Deshmukh, who had on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing by his group, admitted there may be irregularities involved

mumbai Updated: Nov 19, 2016 01:43 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times
Demonetisation,code of conduct,election

State cooperation minister Subhash Deshmukh found himself in more trouble on Friday. The minister’s name cropped up after cash worth Rs91.5 lakh was seized from a vehicle belonging to his company, Lokmangal Group, in Osmanabad on Wednesday. The state election commission found the explanation by Lokmangal group unsatisfactory, and decided to rope in two government agencies to verify the claims along with a third-party audit.

“The group has claimed that the cash belonged to two branches of the credit society run by them. It needs to be checked if the branches were authorised to take a deposit of the quantum seized, if prior permissions from the authorities were taken for transporting money and if the money seized was supported by book entries. Both the agencies have expertise and technical knowledge for the verification of the facts and the information submitted by the group.,” Osmanabad collector Prashant Narnaware told HT. He said after verification, the case may be referred to the Income Tax department or the Enforcement Directorate if the need be.

Deshmukh, who had on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing by his group, admitted there may be irregularities involved. “The cash belonged to two branches of the Lokmangal multi-state credit society. It was not illegal stock, although there was the possibility of irregularities involved. I am ready to face any consequences. The money was not meant for the civic elections,” he said.

The Opposition alleged the cash was unaccounted for and demanded a criminal case be registered against the minister. They have also demanded his ouster from the state cabinet.

The cash— in denominations of Rs500 and Rs1,000 — was found in the vehicle seized by local authorities in Osmanabad, where elections are being held. The SEC has also asked the Solapur-based Lokmangal group (now headed by Deshmukh’s son Rohan) to explain why the cash was stocked in the bank for eight days after demonetisation was announced on November 8. “The employees inside the vehicle, which had the group’s logo, could not give an appropriate explanation for the demonetised currency,” said an official, on condition of anonymity.

Narnaware has roped in the central registrar of the multi-state credit societies department in New Delhi and the district deputy registrar of the cooperation department in Maharashtra to verify the claims made by Lokmangal, which is now headed by Deshmukh’s son. The steps were taken after the collector office, which acts as the nodal representative of the state election commission (SEC) for the elections, found the primary say submitted by the company dissatisfactory.

The Lokmangal Group, had submitted its say to the returning officer Neelesh Shringi on Thursday.

Narnaware said, “We have also asked for more information and documents from the managing director of the bank and the managers of the banks from where the cash was said to have collected. Additional documents related to the jurisdiction, bank chest and authority are expected to be submitted by them. We will submit a report to the state election commission in due course.”

Meanwhile, opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party demanded the minister be sacked.

“This seems to be a clear case of black money. If the BJP is serious about Prime Minister Modi’s drive, they should sack Deshmukh immediately and a criminal case should be filed,”demanded state Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant. There was no official response from the BJP on Friday. A senior party leader said Deshmukh had been asked to answer the allegations himself.

The state election commission, on Friday, asked the Osmanabad Collector to submit a report to the commission.

“The district collector is authorised to examine and investigate the case at a district level. The investigation is going on as per the laid norms in the Act. The persons involved will have to give the trail of the currency seized,” JS Saharia, state election commissioner told HT.

First Published: Nov 19, 2016 00:45 IST