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Mahashtra housing minister Prakash Mehta. Photo: Hindustan Times
Mahashtra housing minister Prakash Mehta. Photo: Hindustan Times

Maharashtra governor orders Lokayukta probe against minister

Maharashtra governor Vidyasagar Rao asked Lokayukta to start investigating permissions granted by Prakash Mehta for a slum rehabilitation plan in Mumbai

Mumbai: Maharashtra governor Vidyasagar Rao on Wednesday asked Lokayukta, the state’s anti-corruption ombudsman, to start investigating the permissions granted by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and housing minister Prakash Mehta for a slum rehabilitation scheme at M.P. Mill compound in Mumbai.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had ordered the probe during the state legislature’s monsoon session and sought the governor’s consent.

A press release issued by the governor’s office said the chief minister “in a letter to the Governor had stated that he had made a statement before both the Houses of State Legislature saying that in regard to the allegations against Shri Prakash Mehta pertaining to grant of permission in the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme at the MP Mill Compound of Mumbai, an inquiry would be entrusted to the Lokayukta of Maharashtra".

Mehta has been accused of giving permission for the slum redevelopment project despite a senior housing department bureaucrat warned that it might accrue a windfall gain of Rs500 crore to the developer concerned.

Fadnavis had revoked the permissions after newspaper reports claimed that the government was wilfully extending monetary benefits to the developer.

Mehta had also noted on the project file that he had “apprised the chief minister of the proposal" indicating that Fadnavis had given a go-ahead. However, Mehta told the legislative assembly that he had actually not informed the chief minister and had written the remark on the file “by mistake". Fadnavis told the house that he was not kept in the loop by the housing minister.

Soon after the governor ordered the Lokayukta probe, Fadnavis had expressed readiness to appear before the Lokayukta if he was called to record his statement.

The governor has ordered the investigation under sub section (3) of section 17 of the Maharashtra Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayukta Act, 1971, the press release said.

A senior BJP functionary in the state said the probe could be damaging for Mehta since the slum redevelopment project was “virtually shot down by a bureaucrat of the rank of the additional chief secretary". “The bureaucrat had noted on the file itself that the permissions granted to this project were not exactly in accordance with the rules and could result in the developer making a windfall gain. The remark was overruled by Mehta and he even dragged the chief minister into it," the BJP functionary said, requesting anonymity.

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