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Devendra Fadnavis rejects Maharashtra ministers’ offer to resign over corruption charges

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-08-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has given a temporary reprieve to ministers Prakash Mehta and Subhash Desai who are facing corruption charges.

Both offered to quit over the weekend but Fadnavis rejected their resignations, according to an official in the chief minister’s office who did not want to be identified.

A better part of the recent three-week-long monsoon session of the state legislature was taken by a confrontation between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government and opposition parties the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) over charges of administrative irregularities against Mehta and Desai.

Mehta, who holds the housing portfolio, is from the BJP and industry minister Desai is a Shiv Sena veteran. The BJP minister is in trouble after sanctioning a couple of Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) projects which, if implemented, would have led to a windfall gain of over Rs500 crore to a builder, according to remarks noted on the file by a senior housing department bureaucrat. Mehta himself wrote on the file that he had “apprised the chief minister of the proposal” and asked the SRA to go ahead. But after the opposition raised this in the assembly and sought to know if Fadnavis was in the know, Mehta told the house that he hadn’t actually told the chief minister. Fadnavis has ordered a probe by Lokayukta into the charges against Mehta. “This is a very shrewd position taken by Fadnavis because the chief minister is beyond the jurisdiction of the Lokayukta,” admitted a BJP leader who did not want to be named.

In the legislature, the Congress and NCP had demanded a judicial probe by a sitting judge under the Commission of Inquiry Act that would also have had the powers to call the chief minister for questioning.

Shiv Sena minister Subhash Desai has been accused of denotifying nearly 30,000 acres of industrial land that was acquired by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). The opposition alleges that this was done to extend benefit to some companies and builders who wanted the land de-notified. Desai has refuted the charges saying most of this land was de-notified during the previous Congress-NCP rule. Fadnavis has ordered an inquiry by an “independent agency” into the charges against Desai but is yet to name the agency.

Both Mehta and Desai met Fadnavis on Saturday and offered to resign, according to the official mentioned earlier. “The chief minister told them that they did not need to resign because probe has already been ordered,” the official said.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has alleged that Fadnavis is not taking stringent action against Mehta because “there are specific instructions from the BJP higher-ups in Delhi”. Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray has defended Desai saying that if a minister is forced to resign because of unsubstantiated charges against him, it would set a bad precedent.

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