Political arrogance on display

Mon 23 Dec 2013

The Maharashtra government’s decision to reject the findings of a judicial commission that has indicted four former Chief Ministers and a dozen civil servants for extending illegal patronage to the controversial Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society constitutes a brazen display of political arrogance. It is in line with its propensity to cover up scandals and question even credible findings. What comes out in the report is the sordid story of political patronage, misuse of power and subversion of law in the perpetration of the Adarsh fraud. The project involved erecting a multi-storeyed residential complex on public property, ostensibly for defence personnel.

Yet, beginning with the housing society’s membership, every norm was violated, and every rule in the book either twisted or violated to favour a few. The original list of 40 members had no one from outside the services, but it was soon expanded to cover bureaucrats, politicians, their relatives and army bigwigs. By the time the apartment complex was completed in 2010, the list of beneficiaries had swollen to 102, of which only 37 were related to the defence department. Politicians and bureaucrats connived with the housing society to circumvent development control rules and get a completion certificate, overlooking the need for mandatory environment clearance.

The commission, comprising retired judge J.A. Patil and former Chief Secretary P. Subrahmanyam, has come to the same conclusion as the Comptroller and Auditor General did in a report two years ago. If the audit found that those holding fiduciary responsibility had betrayed it for personal aggrandisement, the commission says the entire issue “smacks of undue haste and [a] desire to bestow benefit on the society”. The government’s rejection of the report came a few days after Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan refused sanction to prosecute former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who had quit in the aftermath of the controversy.

The Governor’s stand that there is insufficient evidence flies in the face of the judicial panel’s finding that there was “a nexus” between Mr. Chavan’s actions and “the benefit derived by his close relatives”. The need for such sanction for offences under the Indian Penal Code is itself legally questionable, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that prosecution for cheating and conspiracy required no prior sanction. And Mr. Chavan is no more in office, obviating the need for sanction under the Prevention of Corruption Act. On the political front, what is inexplicable is that at a time when the national mood is one of disgust at pervasive corruption and when the Congress is seeking credit for the passage of the Lokpal Bill, a government led by the party should brazen it out in the face of a fierce indictment.


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