Makes inconsistent statements before commission

A day after pleading ignorance before the Adarsh judicial commission to questions on ownership of the housing society land, Union Minister and former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh put the blame on the then Revenue Minister Ashok Chavan. Peppered with inconsistent statements, Mr. Deshmukh’s testimony, on Wednesday, dodged critical questions on the responsibility of ministers and senior bureaucrats, and the definition of “public interest.”

Mr. Deshmukh said that during the process of granting permissions to the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, he sent many relevant documents to the Revenue Department, which never got back to him on the issues he raised. At times, the department also suppressed important facts, not exchanging with him notes which were “necessary” to be shared.

“The whole file (on allotment of land to any society) is processed by the Revenue Ministry. It comes to the Chief Minister only because it [land] exceeds Rs. 25 lakh [in] value,” Mr. Deshmukh told the two-member commission.He gave sanction for the Adarsh society under the impression that it was meant for defence personnel, the former Chief Minister told Dhiren Shah, counsel of Ministry of Defence, during cross-questioning.

The Adarsh society was sold a plot adjacent to the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport [BEST] Depot at Colaba, after reservation of that land for road-widening was deleted. Mr. Deshmukh said the reservation was deleted “for good,” which was to be interpreted as “for public interest.”

Commission member P Subramanyam asked him if it was proper to reduce the width of the public utility road to create land for a private co-operative society. He said, “It depends on the perspective, how one looks at it.” Asked how the deletion of reservation for road-widening led to public interest, he said the additional land could be merged to a parade ground, a helipad, a garden and/or could be used for residential purpose.

Inconsistencies galore

Mr. Deshmukh gave inconsistent statements during more than one instance. Asked why the said land was given to Adarsh society and not to BEST for residential purpose, he said BEST could not have used it for residential purpose as it was an access road. He did not say how Adarsh society could use it for residential purpose then.

He later said BEST never sent any such proposal requesting the land for residential purpose and added that reservation of the plot was changed so that the state government could earn some revenue from the sale of the plot.

Asked why the area was not converted into a residential area in 2002 itself, when the reservation for road widening was deleted, he said it was not possible at that time as no construction could have come up then, since it was an access road. He did not say how construction became possible within a matter of a few years then.

In another instance, Mr. Deshmukh told the commission he had received a letter from the society in 2000, stating Mr. Chavan had allowed 40 per cent civilian membership in the society. He said he had marked the letter to Mr. Chavan for him to look into it. But then he said in 2004, he was “not made aware that Adarsh society was not going to be a society of servicemen and ex-servicemen, but it was going to include civilians also.” He said he granted permissions to the society under the impression that it was meant for the defence personnel.

Commission member P Subramanyam brought to Mr. Deshmukh’s notice that in a parliamentary democracy, the minister is responsible for the acts of omission and commission by the permanent civil servants, but Mr. Deshmukh said it was the responsibility of the bureaucrats to advise the ministers in proper perspective.

When Mr. Subramanyam asked him if he was satisfied that the land was converted to residential area according to the rule of law, he said he merely went by the recommendations of the Urban Development Department which he himself headed when he was the Chief Minister. Mr. Subramanyam also brought to his notice the flouting of norms during the sanction given to the society, but Mr. Deshmukh said he was not aware of the law before he signed the papers.

No one advised him whether the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s clearance was required during the deletion of the reservation of land for the widening of Captain Prakash Pethe Marg, and converting it into a residential area, he said.

Mr. Deshmukh admitted that on the day when he approved the note for granting Letter of Intent (LOI) to Adarsh society, the final evaluation of the land in question was not done. “It was not brought to my notice at the time of issuing LOI that there was no survey number given to the land in question and that no property card in respect of the same had been issued,” he said.

He said neither Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, then Member of Legislative Council, nor the senior bureaucrats who were involved in the scrutiny of Adarsh-related papers, ever brought to his notice that they or their family members owned a flat in Adarsh. However, he did not comment on whether it was improper on their part to suppress the truth.