Bhujbal can’t be held responsible for scam merely because he was the PWD Minister at the time: Court order

GRANTING A clean chit to cabinet minister and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal in the Maharashtra Sadan case, the special court has said that merely because he was the Minister of Public Works Department (PWD) at the relevant period, he cannot be held responsible.

The court said that there was no document or witness stating that Bhujbal misused his position to get a favourable feasibility report to a developer for kickbacks.

The court also said that there was an “undue haste” and an “ill-intention” in lodging the FIR in 2015 by the informant, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) of the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

“Merely in the relevant period, he was the Minister of PWD, he cannot be held responsible for the acts of the officers of his department. No vicarious liability can be fastened on him only because he was the Head/Minister of the department. Neither any document nor any witness states that accused no 1 by misusing his position got the feasibility report favourable to the developer prepared,” special Judge H S Satbhai said in the detailed order made available on Friday.

The court had discharged Bhujbal, his son Pankaj, nephew Sameer and five others on
September 9, clearing them of all charges, including those under Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court said that there was nothing to show that Bhujbal had taken an active part in the process of granting the project to K S Chamankar Enterprises. “It is not appearing that accused no 1 (Bhujbal) played any dominant role in according sanction to the proposal. It is not appearing that by misusing his position as Dy Chief Minister he compelled committee to take the decision favourable to the developer. It is not appearing that he insisted that committee members ignore the unfavourable facts disclosed in the feasibility reports/notes and allot the contract to the developer,” the court further said.

A case was filed in 2015 against Bhujbal and 16 others by the ACB after a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Bombay High Court seeking an inquiry into alleged irregularities in awarding of contracts of over Rs 100 crore for three projects in 2006 when Bhujbal was the state PWD minister.

The contracts in question were given to Chamankar Enterprises for the construction of Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, a new Regional Transport Office building in Andheri and a state guest house in Malabar Hill.

The ACB and intervenor activist Anjali Damania had opposed Bhujbal’s discharge. It was argued that Chamankar Enterprises was favoured though it did not have any experience nor was it a registered contractor.

It was also alleged that the project was given to the developer without inviting tenders and the cost of construction was shown much higher to benefit the developer.

It was also alleged that in 2006, the proposal was sanctioned by the Committee of Ministers which did not have the authority. The court said that there was no irregularity seen in the manner in which the proposal was sanctioned.

It said that not inviting tenders was a decision by the Transport and Home department with a report submitted on its reasons. It also said that the decision to place the proposal before the Committee of Ministers and not the Cabinet was not taken by Bhujbal.

It said that a notice from 2006 when the proposal was sanctioned showed that the decision was that of then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who also headed the committee. It said that bureaucrats were present in the meeting too.

The court said that there was no proof that Bhujbal had any domain over the functioning of the committee and accepting the proposal without any discussion or directing members to not resist it.

The court said that while suspicion was shown against Bhujbal and others, “the same has been properly and satisfactorily explained” by the accused.

The ACB had alleged that a total of Rs 21.20 crore were given to Bhujbal as quid pro quo for awarding the contract with regard to furniture at Maharashtra Sadan through firms linked with his family. The court said that it was not the case that the furniture was not purchased for the Sadan or that it was of a substandard quality.

It also said that it was unlikely that the conspiracy was executed through different officers, different departments across a time span from 2001 onwards.

It also said that a private third-party expert, an architect appointed to calculate the losses, had submitted his report a month after the FIR was filed but the contents of the report were already mentioned when permission to file the complaint was submitted by the ACB.

“Prima facie, it goes to show that a farce was created of making an appointment of architect Shri Sukhatme on June 30, 2015 and prior to that a favourable and convenient report to suit the allegations was sought from him. When indeed the appointment of architect was on June 30, 2015, registering of FIR on June 11, on the basis of his opinion report, goes to show ill intention in lodging the FIR by informant,” the court said.

It also raised questions on the calculations made to arrive at the alleged losses caused to the government.

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