Issuing a stern reprimand to senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Maharashtra Minister Girish Bapat, the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court (HC) said Mr. Bapat had misused his position and flouted norms by restoring the licence of a blacklisted fair price shop (FPS).
Justice Ravindra Ghuge rapped Mr. Bapat, who is the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection Minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government, for quashing a probe against a FPS owner in Beed district who was caught selling foodgrains and kerosene in the black market.
“The Minister [Mr. Bapat] is a custodian and protector of the rights and privileges of citizens. But he [Mr. Bapat] has failed in his duty disregarding such rights and by restoring the licence of a fair price shop operator guilty of glaring misdeeds,” reads Justice Ghuge’s order.
The order against Mr. Bapat’s directive was passed after a complaint was lodged by Sahebrao Waghmare of Beed against Vibhishan Mane, owner of the FPS in 2016. Mr. Waghmare had accused Mr. Mane of diverting foodgrains intended for BPL card holders for his own profit and tampering with records.
In his petition, Mr. Waghmare had further accused Mr. Mane of pressurizing card holders and using his political connection (with Mr. Bapat) to get his licence restored.
Following multiple investigations on behalf of the Tehsildar of Ambejogai (in Beed district), the District Supply Officer (DSO) and the Deputy Commissioner (Supplies) stationed in Aurangabad, Mr. Mane was found guilty and licence was suspended.
Yet, Mr. Bapat in April last year, ordered his licence to be restored, citing flimsy grounds “of lack of evidence” against Mr. Mane. In his directive restoring Mr. Mane’s licence, Mr. Bapat ascribed a lack of clarity on part of the investigating officer (the Tehsildar).
However, the HC, after hearing Mr. Waghmare’s petition, censured Mr. Bapat and restored the probe of the Tehsildar and the DSO.
“It is quite surprising that the same learned Minister continues to pass identical orders with little respect for the majesty of Law and the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act,” read the HC’s order.
In September 2017, the court had again pulled up Mr. Bapat for restoring the licence of a women’s self-help group (SHG) called the ‘Savitribai Phule Mahila Bachat Gat’ from Beed to operate a FPS despite the group facing a criminal case for illegally lifting foodgrains during the period when its licence was suspended.
In that case, the Minister had similarly ordered the SHG’s licence to be restored in March 2015 in a ‘revision process’ after its appeal against cancellation was dismissed by the Deputy Commissioner (Supplies) in Aurangabad.
The Opposition Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) demanded Mr. Bapat’s immediate resignation from the Cabinet.