Hints at role played by his political rivals from Maharashtra in Adarsh Housing Society controversy
“My conscience is clear,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan repeats several times, as he defends himself against allegations of corruption that have surfaced in the media over the last week, and which are now threatening to take away his job. “This whole issue is being hyped up [in the media]. Look at what is being shown and written — they don't reflect the ground reality. Things are being projected as though there is a scam or a fraud.” If he was guilty, would he have welcomed the CBI enquiry, he asks.
Fighting with his back to the wall, Mr. Chavan instead pleads: “Let's talk about solutions. If people want to show their gratitude to the Kargil martyrs, let's work it out.”
Escaping from the media frenzy at the capital's Maharashtra Sadan, Mr. Chavan agrees to meet this correspondent late on Saturday evening at a city hotel, a favourite with a section of Congressmen. He looks vulnerable now, unlike the cool he had projected earlier in the day when he had emerged from 10 Janpath after a gruelling meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Facing a battery of TV and print journalists, he had not looked particularly perturbed. But in this hotel room, he looks distinctly on edge, hinting at the role played by political rivals from the State in the current controversy.
The emotive part of the story is that land allotted for the construction of a cooperative housing society for Kargil war heroes and their families in one of the most expensive parts of the country's commercial capital has ended up benefiting the rich and powerful — Generals, bureaucrats and politicians and their relatives.
What is Mr. Chavan's take on this? First, he points out that there was no mention of Kargil either in September 1999, when Narayan Rane was Chief Minister and the first letter was received from the promoters, or in February 2000, when Vilasrao Deshmukh was Chief Minister, and the second letter arrived. He stresses that it was only in the third letter from the promoters of the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society that there is mention that Kargil war heroes could also be accommodated — and he admits that he was Revenue Minister at the time in Mr. Deshmukh's government, and he had written that priority should be given to the project, because of the Kargil factor.
He repeatedly points out that while the first two letters don't mention whether the Adarsh Society is intended for any specific category of persons, the third letter merely states that it is for serving and retired defence personnel and that, in the course of the letter, the promoters mention that the families of the Kargil war heroes could also be accommodated. But Mr. Chavan stresses that it was not intended only for Kargil war heroes.
Mr. Chavan is also insistent that the land on which the Society has come up belongs to the Maharashtra government, which was subsequently illegally occupied by the Defence Ministry — something he says was admitted by one Colonel Jog to the Collector of Mumbai in a letter in 2000.
He admits that three of the flats were allotted to his relatives — his mother-in-law, and two other relatives of his wife. Mr. Chavan's defence is that his father-in-law was in the Indian Air Force, and of the other two, one was an Army officer and the other a PSU official and had, therefore, got the allotments on their own merit. He also claims that all three have subsequently, in view of the controversy, returned their allotments.
Finally, how did a six-storey building metamorphose into a 31-storey high rise that towers above the Colaba landscape in southern Mumbai? His answer: the FSI (floor space index) was increased during Mr. Deshmukh's tenure as Chief Minister, so he can't answer for that.
Mr. Chavan is clearly in a tight spot, and his only defence appears to be that he was just following up on a project that had received clearance by previous regimes.