In a major setback for the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Special CBI Court on Saturday rejected the agency’s plea to drop his name from its charge sheet in the Adarsh Housing Society case. This means Mr. Chavan can be tried as an accused in the case.
In a one-line order judge S.G. Dige said: “I am rejecting this application.” He asked the agency why Mr Chavan could not be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The CBI lawyer Bharat Badami said “We would be more than happy to prosecute Mr. Chavan but our hands are tied.” He said any prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act must be supported by provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). However, this was not possible since Governor K Sankaranarayan had refused the agency permission to prosecute Mr. Chavan on charges of criminal conspiracy and cheating under the IPC.
The Governor’s decision last month had led the CBI to move the court seeking permission to drop Mr Chavan’s name from its charge sheet.
Both the CBI and Mr. Chavan can appeal against the verdict. “The order needs to be studied in letter and spirit by our legal team. Only then we will decide the next step,” CBI Joint Director Keshav Kumar said. “If the CBI does not appeal it, they will have to summon Mr. Chavan. He can then appeal against the summons in a higher court citing the Governor’s refusal to sanction his prosecution,” criminal lawyer Majeed Memon told The Hindu. When asked to react to the verdict, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said, “This matter is sub judice and I cannot make any comments at this stage.” Mr. Ashok Chavan also did not comment but his close aide told The Hindu, “We will examine our options after going through the court’s reasoning.”
Meanwhile the Opposition BJP says the court proceedings have lowered the prestige of the Governor. “There is now a question mark on the Governor’s decision not to sanction the prosecution of Mr. Chavan. He owes an explanation to the public,” said BJP leader Vinod Tawde.
Congress sources say that with this verdict, Mr. Chavan’s political rehabilitation ahead of the Assembly polls in Maharashtra becomes difficult. Sections of the party were hoping that he could play an active role in the Marathwada region, where the party faces a vacuum after the death of former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Mr. Chavan resigned as Chief Minister in 2010, in the wake of revelations that three of his relatives including his mother-in-law owned flats in Adarsh Society. The CBI filed a charge sheet in the case whichnamed him and 12 others in 2012. However it had to seek the Governor’s sanction before proceeding further, in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure which seeks to protect public servants.