Was Ashok Chavan singled out in Adarsh scam?

Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Suresh Prabhu continue to have flats in Adarsh Housing Society while Ashok Chavan’s father-in-law, a retired army officer, returned the flats allotted to him

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Sujata Anandan

Ashok Chavan was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When the Adarsh scam broke in November 2010, he was the chief minister of Maharashtra. The general perception then was that he had arm-twisted army officials to reserve 40 per cent of the allotments in the premier search housing society for civilians so that he and other government officials could benefit from the allotments. His mistake was compounded by the fact that his father-in-law was one of the allottees in the society. When accused of benefiting his family, he further tied himself up in knots by stating family meant only wife and children and not the wife's parents.

The fact, however, remains that the land on which the Adarsh society was built was erroneously presumed to be defence land, a presumption that was the root cause of the scam.

A government committee later established that the land belonged to the Maharashtra government and was allotted for housing to families of Kargil martyrs. When Chavan sought civilian reservation, he was not the chief minister and merely revenue minister in the Vilasrao Deshmukh cabinet. Two chief ministers - Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde - could easily have overruled his decision but didn't.

Moteover, Chavan's father-in-law was ex-army personnel and so entitled to a flat in Adarsh society. When the scam broke he returned the two flats he had bought to the society, realising the distress it was causing his son-in-law. Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Suresh Prabhu, then in the opposition, too were beneficiaries of such allotments but they seemed to have no such compunction and continue to hold on to their respective flats in Adarsh society - they may have been entirely eligible to secure flats in the society under the reservation clause.

A judicial commission which probed the Adarsh case found instances of impropriety and acts of corruption in the Adarsh allotments against many high officers and politicians but Chavan was not held singularly or particularly culpable by Justices JA Patil and NN Kumbhar who examined 182 witnesses, indicted many senior officials and politicians and raised queries about 25 allotments in the society including 22 purchases of flats through benami and proxy means.

Four chief ministers, including Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar who had been out of power for decades, was named for indulging in various illegal acts as well as former ministers for urban development Sunil Tatkare and Rajesh Tope, both of who belonged to the Nationalist Congress Party.

While Deshmukh died in 2012 and Shinde artfully dodged any culpability by stating that he had followed his predecessors’ policies in toto, Chavan bore the brunt of the scandal, though the judicial commission did not find any prosecurable evidence against the former chief minister.

Based on this, former Maharashtra governor K Sankaranarayanan barred the CBI from prosecuting Chavan, a move that was seen as highly motivated as both the governor and Chavan belonged to the same party then ruling Maharashtra. However, current Maharashtra governor C Vidyasagar Rao sanctioned Chavan's prosecution in 2016 based on the premise of fresh evidence by the CBI, which the Bombay High Court has now found unestablished. Last week, it denied the permission to prosecute Chavan despite the CBI's plea that dismissal of the case would amount to setting Chavan free of all guilt and culpability.

While the judgment has come as great relief to Chavan, who has reiterated his faith in the judiciary, the Congress has been quick to describe governor Rao's move as motivated. The governor was under advice by the council of ministers who based their decision to prosecute Chavan on the findings of the judicial commission.

Not surprisingly in view of the 2G ruling by the CBI court, Sanjay Nirupam of the Mumbai Congress seized upon the CBI judge's statement to point out that facts in the Adarsh case as well were arranged to look like a scam.

However, Adarsh was indeed a scam that saw several bureaucrats not just suspended but jailed. Many army officers faced prison as well and the promoter of the society, Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, who died after a brief spell in jail, was known to have made cynical use of greed and temptation to bend all rules in constructing the building - every officer who was persuaded to bend or ignore the rules was allotted a flat in the society and politicians of all hues, including those belonging to the BJP and Shiv Sena, were allotted flats in the scheme to prevent a scandal from breaking forth.

However, the scandal did break through and many innocent allottees who had sunk their life's savings into a flat in Adarsh society faced bankruptcy after an earlier order of the court ordering demolition of portions of the building.

Meanwhile Chavan, who is at present the State Congress chief, could get a fresh lease as his party looks for credible alternatives in Maharashtra to lead the party into the next elections. He was one of only two MPs elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014 from Nanded. In September this year, the Congress won 73 out if 81 seats in the Nanded Municipal Corporation on his home turf. The Congress spirits were high ever since.

Now, combined with their good showing in Gujarat and the acquittal of all accused in the 2G scam, the Adarsh ruling has come as much-needed relief, as there are few grassroots leaders in Maharashtra apart from Chavan who can be expected to lead the party into the next elections and pose a serious threat to the BJP.

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