Maharashtra slum scam: Fadnavis turns to Lokayukta
Over the past few months, the clean image of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has been taking a few hits with a series of corruption charges being levelled against the BJP government in Maharashtra. To tackle the situation, the Chief Minister has ordered a Lokayukta inquiry into the matter regarding the misuse of land in South Mumbai.
In the latest drama, senior member of the Cabinet and state Housing Minister Prakash Mehta stands accused of illegally approving a Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) project by allegedly bypassing the chief minister and providing a Rs 500-crore benefit to a private developer in the process.
Under pressure from the Opposition, which alleges erstwhile SRA CEO Vishwas Patil had illegally transferred building rights under the SRA scheme to MP Mills Compound, Tardeo, experts say Fadnavis has taken the step to protect his 'Mr Clean' image.
Despite claiming that the irregularities had happened during the tenure of Congress – Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government, Fadnavis ordered Lokayukta inquiry to clear the clouds.
“It has been decided that Lokayukta will conduct an inquiry into the allegations against the housing minister, even though the irregularity has happened during the tenure of last government. It will help in clearing all doubts, if any,” Fadnavis said.
Over the past few days, the Opposition has raised its pitch on the misuse of the land in South Mumbai, and cornered the state government in both Houses.
In fact, several BJP MLAs staged a walkout from the state legislative council - a first in India's parliamentary history where the members of the ruling party walked out after being put under too much pressure from Opposition parties.
Fadnavis himself has been implicated in the matter as Mehta had made a noting on the file approving the project that the former was aware about the decision. When Opposition leaders produced the file in the House, Fadnavis immediately denied having any knowledge about the decision. This only helped fuel the Opposition's attack on the government and it has demanded that Mehta resign and that a probe be initiated.
Matters of reputation
Despite ministers like Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawade coming under fire for corruption, Fadnavis has so far managed to take on the Opposition.
But Fadnavis is having a far more difficult time brushing off the allegation against Mehta as his name is directly linked with the scam. That is exactly why Fadnavis is taking steps to protect his reputation by ordering a Lokayukta inquiry into the matter.
Senior journalist Abhay Deshpande said, “Fadnavis has had to take such a step to save his image. Since SRA is under the CM's authority, the inquiry cannot be given to a judicial commission, hence the Lokayukta. But by doing so, Fadnavis has widened the scope of inquiry back to the tenure of Ashok Chavan, who allowed additional FSI to the project.”
“Prakash Mehta should be removed from the cabinet immediately and subjected to inquiry. This is nothing but an internal conflict of BJP. If Eknath Khadse was forced to resign from the Cabinet on the charges of corruption, Mehta should also be treated similarly," says veteran journalist Ganesh Torsekar.