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Why Fadnavis ordered an inquiry against minister Khotkar in Maharashtra

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

A decade and a half of anger against the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led the people of Maharashtra to sweep them out of power, and install a BJP-Shiv Sena government. But now, the new ruling combine also seems to be travelling down the same path of corruption.

On 4 June this year, the seniormost BJP leader in Maharashtra, Eknath Khadse, resigned following serious allegations, including corruption. And now, another minister, Shiv Sena leader Arjun Khotkar, has come under the scanner.

In both these case, it was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that put the last nail in their coffins.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered an Anti-Corruption Bureau inquiry into the allegations levelled against Khotkar.

Misusing clout

On 17 August, Preeti Sharma Menon, an AAP leader from Maharashtra, alleged that Khotkar misused his clout in the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), Jalna.

"Khotkar has been the chairman of APMC Jalna for the last nine years. He controls the APMC like his private business. Despite the region reeling under severe drought for many years, Khotkar has deprived needy and poor farmers of their due benefits from the APMC. We had received information that Khotkar and his brother Sanjay had been terrorising poor farmers in the region. Khotkar has amassed property worth Rs 500 crore by way of illegal activities in Jalna APMC," she had said.

Menon said that a majority of the shops at the Jalna APMC belonged to either the Khotkars or their close aides. "We sought the list of shop owners at both the APMC markets at Jalna. The information we got was shocking. Over 250 shops in these markets belong to the Khotkars and their close aides. We have identified 250 shop owners, but we are confident that the number would be far more than 500," she said.

The AAP alleged that the shops at the APMC, meant to carry out agriculture-related business, have been let out for all sorts of activities, such as automobile garages, cloth trading, furniture, general stores and iron trading etc.

"This is gross cheating with poor farmers, who should be able to carry out their activities from these shops. This is also a blatant violation of the basic concept of APMC, which was formed to facilitate sale and purchase of agricultural produce only," Menon said, adding: "Soon there would be a multiplex and a petrol pump on the premises of Jalna APMC."

The APMC market situated at Junana Mondha in Jalna is named Arjun Khotkar Business Centre (AKBC). The huge cloth shops in this market are owned by close aides of Khotkar.

Ignoring auditor's red flags

Apart from these irregularities, Menon alleged, Khotkar has thrown an audit report in the trash, and ignored all the recommendations therein.

Many shops have been constructed in open space, and even under high tension power transmission lines.

"The town planning authorities of Jalna had written to the APMC to restrain from such allotments, but Khotkar, who is chairman of the committee, has ignored the instructions. The technical and financial advisors of Jalna APMC are close aides of Khotkar. The committee has granted construction contracts to CG Associates, owned by Ajit Chhabda, who is a close aide of Khotkar. Chhabda also owns some shops at the market," Menon said.

She said that there are clear strictures against CG Associates in the audit report for 2014-15. The auditor has questioned how the company could be appointed as technical advisor for so many years. However, Khotkar did not pay any heed to the strictures.

Menon also alleged that the auditor had raised serious questions about financial condition of the APMC.

"Jalna is one of the major agricultural markets in Maharashtra. Still it is in loss. According to the audit report of the previous financial year, the total revenue of the APMC was Rs 8,05,19,667 (8.05 crore) and the overheads were Rs 9,64,82,657 (9.64 crore). This means the APMC suffered a loss of Rs 1,63,43,589 (1.63 crore) during the fiscal year 2014-15," Menon said.

Pointing to other financial irregularities, Menon alleged that the board of directors of the committee had not even bothered to recover dues form 39 shop owners, which is in gross violation of the directives. The unpaid rent in the Jalna APMC is to the tune of Rs 1.22 crore and property tax to the tune of Rs 16.18 lakh.

"There are strong strictures against this in the audit report, and the auditor has held the board of directors responsible for this," she said.

Khotkar's denial

After AAP levelled the allegations, Khotkar flatly denied the same, and wrote to the CM requesting to institute an inquiry.

"All the allegations are baseless. There are no such irregularities, I have asked the CM to order an appropriate inquiry to clear the doubts," Khotkar said.

Reacting to the development, Menon said, "It is good that the CM has ordered an inquiry. But we cannot be sure about the outcome of the same until we get the details such as terms of reference for the inquiry committee. Instead of an ACB inquiry, the CM should constitute a committee of sitting High Court Judges to inquire into the matter. Otherwise, it would be a farce to give a clean chit to Khotkar, like the government did in case of Eknath Khadse."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 22 August 2016, 10:18 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.