Retired High Court judge to probe allegations against Eknath Khadse

Under a cloud over multiple allegations of corruption including a questionable land deal, Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse on Saturday stepped down on moral grounds, making him the first BJP minister to quit facing corruption allegations since Narendra Modi came to power promising clean governance.

The resignation came two days after BJP president Amit Shah sought a report from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Denies charges

Mr. Khadse, a six-time BJP legislator from Muktainagar Assembly constituency in Jalgaon in north Maharashtra, strongly denied all allegations, and expressed confidence that a probe will clear any wrong-doing.

Mr. Fadnavis accepted the resignation and announced that an inquiry by a retired High Court judge will be ordered to probe the allegations. Later in the evening, the resignation was accepted by Maharashtra governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao.

The political drama began in the morning when Mr. Khadse called on Mr. Fadnavis and offered to resign.

Other cabinet colleagues such as Forests Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawade and State BJP chief Raosaheb Danve were also present at the meeting.

Emerging from the meeting, Mr. Khadse said he was made a victim of a media trial, and refuted allegations made against him. “I have never faced a media trial in 40 years of my political career. I asked those making the allegations to provide evidence, and they have not been able to give. I ask them today to provide evidence when the probe is conducted, and if these are claims are found to be untrue, I have urged the Chief Minister to take action against them,” said 63-year-old Khadse, facing the worst moment of his long political career.

Multiple allegations

Mr. Khadse was battling multiple allegations since October 2015 when a Jalgaon police inspector Ashok Sadre, who took action against illegal sand mining mafia operations by one Sagar Chaudhari, committed suicide. Aam Aadmi Party had alleged that Sadre committed suicide under pressure as Chaudhari had close links with Mr Khadse. Mr Khadse had denied the charges.

Mr. Khadse was in the news again after Gajanan Patil, who claimed to be a personal assistant of the minister, was arrested for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 30 crore for giving an NOC for 37 hectares of revenue land required by an educational institution in Thane district.

Aam Aadmi Party had hurled allegations that calls were made a phone registered in the name of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s wife to Mr Khadse’s mobile number unearthed by a Jalgaon-based hacker Manish Bhangale. Last month, a Pune-based builder Hemant Gawande had lodged a complaint at Pune’s Bund garden police station alleging that he helped his family corner a three-acre plot of land belonging to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) worth Rs 65 crore at a throwaway price of Rs 3.75 crore.

“.... Eknath Khadse has misused his office and has used his influence as a Revenue Minister to usurp and grab the piece and parcel of land which admittedly has been acquired by the MIDC,” Mr Gawande stated in his complaint.

BJP backs Khadse

Taking high moral ground, Mr Khadse drew parallels with corruptions allegations against Nitin Gadkari, and LK Advani. “Allegations were made against Gadkari and Advani, and they were given a clean chit after a probe. This is an attempt to malign the BJP, and I have decided to step down till my name is cleared,” he said.

One of the Chief Ministerial contenders after BJP came to power in October 2014 elections, Mr Khadse was given the powerful Revenue Ministry to pacify him after Modi handpicked Mr Fadnavis for the top job. He also holds Agriculture, Minority Affairs, and seven other portfolios.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 11:35:02 AM |

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