Mumbai, 22 December 2017: In a major relief for ex-Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Bombay High Court “quashed and set aside” the sanction accorded by Maharashtra Governor C.V. Rao to prosecute the senior Congress leader in the Adarsh Housing Society scam on Friday.
The main ground for the court’s decision was that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to present any fresh evidence against Chavan while seeking sanction from the Governor to prosecute him, Chavan’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Amit Desai told mediapersons.
Chavan hailed the verdict, saying “truth has prevailed”.
In February 2016, Governor Rao had granted sanction to CBI to prosecute Chavan on various charges, including criminal conspiracy, cheating, misuse of powers and authority, bypassing norms, etc, in the Adarsh Society scam, under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act.
Setting aside the Governor’s sanction, a division bench comprising Justice Ranjit More and Justice Sadhana Jadhav ruled in their 58-page detailed order that “it cannot be sustained”.
The High Court also held that the material collected by the investigating agency must be admissible in evidence or capable of being converted into evidence which can be substantiated at the trial state.
However, the judges said neither the extract of the Justice J.A. Patil Commission Report nor an earlier order of a single judge of the Bombay High Court of November 19, 2014 are admissible in evidence or capable of being converted into evidence, and hence could not be considered.
Incidentally, the previous Governor K. Sankaranarayanan had declined to grant the sanction in December 2013, but after three years when the CBI again approached the Governor’s office it was granted by the incumbent Governor Rao.
“In the absence of fresh material, the Governor (Rao) has no jurisdiction to review the order of the erstwhile governor (Sankaranarayanan),” Justice More and Justice Jadhav’s verdict said.
Last year, Chavan had filed a petition challenging Governor Rao’s order, terming it as “arbitrary, illegal, unjust” and that the sanction to prosecute him was accorded with “malafide intentions”.
During the hearings in the eight-year old case, his lawyer Desai argued that the February 2016 sanction order was “politically biased” and motivated by changed political circumstances rather than any change in the material aspects of the case.
After the verdict, Chavan said “truth has prevailed” since the allegations leveled against him were “political vendetta”.
“These allegations were politically motivated without any basis. That is why the Congress party stood by me and made me the state party President despite the allegations against me,” Chavan said.
He said Governor Rao had “erred in sanctioning the prosecution” against him particularly since his predecessor Sankaranarayanan had rejected the CBI plea.
On his future course of action, Chavan said he would first study the full judgement before deciding on the same.
Following the stunning revelations that emerged in the Adarsh Society scam and its consequent political fallout, Chavan had resigned as Chief Minister in November 2010.
Among others, the names of at least three other former Chief Ministers (besides Chavan), ex-ministers, top bureaucrats – including the controversial IFS officer and former Deputy Consul-General of India in New York, Devyani Khobragade – had figured as allottees of posh flats in the building as details tumbled out.
The sensational scam involving the 31-storied building in Colaba, south Mumbai, was first exposed in late 2010 with allegations that top politicians and bureaucrats had usurped the flats in the society meant to house Kargil war widows and war heroes.
Coming a day after the Special CBI Court verdict in the 2G scam cases in New Delhi, Friday’s Bombay High Court verdict in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society imbroglio would be seen as another major embarrassment for the ruling BJP in the state and Centre.