New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and 12 others, including serving and retired Indian Administrative Service officers and retired military officers, in the chargesheet filed in the Adarsh case.
The move could revive the campaign against corruption, which has faded in the past few months. At its height, the anti-graft campaign led by Anna Hazare posed a threat to the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, with arrests and resignations following in its wake. It also comes as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seeking to overturn the image of his government as one gripped by policy paralysis through a series of reforms.
The chargesheet was filed before special CBI court judge M.V. Kulkarni on Wednesday. The 31-storey Adarsh housing project was built on a plot of land in the posh Colaba area of south Mumbai and meant to provide homes to ex-servicemen and widows of Kargil war heroes. Membership was opened up to others, leading to allegations that politicians and bureaucrats had cornered apartments in the project. Chavan was forced to resign as chief minister in November 2010 after details emerged.
Hazare has announced a fresh agitation in New Delhi, demanding action against ministers accused of corruption. It’s set to kick off on 25 July, the day the new President is expected to take oath, raising the prospect of another prolonged stand-off similar to the one last year, when public anger over corruption led to unprecedented support for the Hazare campaign on the street.
The monsoon session of Parliament, likely to begin later this month, may also worsen the polarization caused by the ongoing presidential election campaign. Analysts said the position of the government will worsen with the opposition sharpening its attack ahead of key state elections later this year and early 2013, and general election scheduled in 2014.
Chavan has been accused of granting building concessions by altering the area development plan and getting flats in the housing society for his relatives as a quid pro quo. Chavan, who has maintained that he is innocent, alleged that the CBI move was a political conspiracy against him.
“This (CBI chargesheet) is unfortunate and unexpected. The Adarsh housing is only an administrative matter. However, there is a conspiracy by my rivals to malign me. The Adarsh issue has been blown out of proportion,” he told reporters after the 10,000-page chargesheet was filed in the sessions court in Mumbai.
CBI registered a case on 29 January last year under the Indian Penal Code sections including criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and showing forged documents as genuine, besides sections pertaining to the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The UPA government has been facing a series of corruption charges, including irregularities in the second-generation (2G) spectrum allocation and preparations for the Commonwealth Games 2010. A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran had to quit the cabinet over the 2G scam, while minister of state Shashi Tharoor stepped down after his name was dragged into an Indian Premier League controversy. More recently, Virbhadra Singh quit the cabinet following corruption charges being framed against him by a Himachal Pradesh court.
“In a way, (the filing of charges against Chavan) will reinforce the notion that the Congress-led UPA government accommodated the corrupt for a long time. At a time its credibility is at its lowest, this notion will damage it further,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.
“By the time the Parliament session begins, the opposition will raise questions on why (science and technology minister) Vilasrao Deshmukh and (power minister) Sushil Kumar Shinde are not being chargesheeted,” Mrug added.
Both Deshmukh and Shinde were also accused of irregularities in the allotments of the flats in the Adarsh society.
“Anna and his team also have planned their agitation in perfect time,” Mrug said. “By the time the new president is elected, they will begin their fresh campaign giving ammunition to the opposition for its attack on the government.”
Hazare and his team are demanding that a special investigation team should probe charges of corruption against 15 cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister.
“We will continue to do what we are doing,” said Kiran Bedi, an associate of Hazare. “One of the biggest achievements of the anti-corruption agitation has been that the common people are more aware of such issues.”
Corruption charges against senior leaders, the worsening economic situation, the blocking of reform measures by warring alliance partners and unabated inflation on top of the policy paralysis have adversely affected India’s investment climate. The latest development may undermine the bid to effect a turnaround.
“The opposition is not going to miss any chance to embarrass the government. One can expect the most of it. Whether it will come in the way of reform depends on the Prime Minister’s firmness in dealing with it. It will be another test for the PM to go ahead with his resolve,” said Balveer Arora, a political expert and former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The Congress party sought to play down the development.
“As far as the chargesheet is concerned, a charge is at best a narration of the events as they are understood by the investigating officer,” said Manish Tewari, Congress spokesperson.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which stalled Parliament over corruption in previous sessions, indicated the monsoon session would be no different.
“Everyday a new minister or a new leader of the UPA is either going to jail or facing a chargesheet,” said BJP spokesperson Tarun Vijay.
The BJP will raise the issue of corruption in the monsoon session. “We will make the government realize that the sooner it goes, the better it is for the country.”
CBI alleged that Chavan secured flats for his mother-in-law and brother-in-law. It also said that during his tenure as revenue minister (2001-03), he approved the inclusion of 40% civilian members in the Adarsh housing society.
Others named in the charge-sheet included former Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation commissioner Jairaj Phatak, former Mumbai collector Pradeep Vyas, former state chief information commissioner Ramanand Tiwari, former principal secretary in the chief minister’s office Subhash Lala, and promoter of the society and former Congress legislative council member Kanhaiyalal Gidwani.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Maharashtra government filed an affidavit in the Bombay high court that’s hearing a public interest litigation in the Adarsh case, saying that CBI doesn’t have the jurisdiction to investigate the case as neither the state government nor the high court had asked to investigate the case.
CBI countered by saying it was investigating the case as per the central government’s directives as the land belongs to the defence ministry.
State chief minister Prithviraj Chavan defended the affidavit and said, “Our stand is consistent that the land belongs to the state government and we have not asked for CBI inquiry and state government is capable to carry out inquiry on its own.”
He declined to comment on Ashok Chavan’s statement that his political opponents were trying to implicate him in the case. He expressed surprise over the inclusion of Ashok Chavan’s name in the charge-sheet.
Sahil Makkar in New Delhi and PTI contributed to this story.