This fortnight

Relief for Ashok Chavan

Print edition : January 19, 2018

Congress leader Ashok Chavan. Photo: VIVEK BENDRE

ON December 22, 2017, the Bombay High Court set aside the sanction granted by Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao in November 2016 to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to prosecute former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan in the controversial Adarsh Housing Society case.

The CBI had presented material based on a report by a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice J.A. Patil, former judge of the Bombay High Court, in 2013 and a 2014 order issued by the same court to persuade the Governor to grant sanction.

A Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Sadhana Jadhav said the sanction was issued based on the “same material” and therefore could not be converted into evidence.

Former Governor K. Sankaranarayanan had refused sanction to prosecute Chavan in 2013, but his successor, Vidyasagar Rao, referred to the report by Justice J.A. Patil to reopen the case and give the CBI the go-ahead. The bench said, “Neither the extract of Justice J. A. Patil Commission Report nor the order dated 19 November 2014 passed by the learned Single Judge of this Court in Criminal Revision Application No.136 of 2014 are admissible in evidence or capable of being converted into evidence and therefore the same cannot be considered.”

In response to the CBI’s contention that review of a sanction order was permissible, the bench agreed and said: “If the fresh material is collected by the investigating agency subsequent to the earlier order, then, the earlier sanction order can be reviewed or re-considered.” The bench went on to state that the material presented by the CBI was not permissible as evidence.

The CBI told the High Court that if Chavan’s petition was allowed, it would be equal to acquitting him. Chavan had challenged the Governor’s order in the High Court, saying it was “arbitrary, illegal and unjust” and passed with “mala fide intentions”.

The case dates back to the period when Chavan was Chief Minister of Maharashtra from December 2008 to November 2010. His tenure ended abruptly when the party high command asked him to step down after he faced corruption charges in the Adarsh case. Chavan is now president of the State unit of the Congress.

The CBI claimed that Chavan endorsed additional floor space index for the Adarsh Society in return for two flats in the building in the names of his relatives. His involvement, according to the CBI, goes even further back.

In his earlier tenure as Revenue Minister, Chavan allegedly allotted 40 per cent of the flats to civilians in Adarsh Housing Society, which was meant exclusively for defence personnel.

The December 22 judgment also has a detailed timeline of events that led to the granting of the sanction. It clearly marks certain facts, such as the change of government in 2014 from the Congress to the BJP-headed coalition with the Shiv Sena.

Referring to this sequence of events, the court cautioned against an independent sanctioning authority succumbing to the influence of “opinion” and said: “The sanctioning authority is an independent body that cannot allow itself to be influenced by anyone’s opinion.”

Lyla Bavadam