Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cabinet seeks to let Gavit off in graft case

MUMBAI: The state cabinet on Wednesday recommended to governor K Sankaranarayanan that it did not intend to prosecute medical education minister Vijaykumar Gavit in a decade-old corruption case. The decision will do little to change public perception that the Maharashtra government is not serious about checking graft.

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan approved the cabinet's recommendation to be submitted to Raj Bhavan after a cabinet note was read out by social justice secretary R D Shinde amid prolonged silence from fellow ministers. Showing no signs of hesitation, the cabinet overruled an 11-page report of the state home department favouring prosecution of Gavit for his alleged involvement in fraud of Rs101 crore.

The cabinet went by a commissioner-of-inquiry report and the opinion of the then advocate general Ravi Kadam, both ruling out criminal foul play, but finding the NCP leader guilty of "dereliction of duty, lack of supervision and a victim of manipulation by lower level officials". The evidence, the cabinet ruled, was not enough to pursue a case against Gavit.

The decision was taken without vetting any case papers, documentary evidence or examining the presence of malafide intention. "This is a shameful day for Maharashtra politics and hopefully the governor will take note of this by taking the advocate general's view," said a cabinet source. The governor had asked the chief secretary to place before the cabinet the proposal to decide if Gavit should be prosecuted. The governor can overrule the cabinet decision if he so desires.

The case pertains to the grant of financial assistance to the poor under three centrally sponsored schemes between 1998 and 2000. The state government has already given sanction for prosecution against 49 public servants, including divisional commissioners and collectors, involved in the scam.

A source said that though the home department was in favour of prosecuting the minister, senior Congress and NCP members were opposed to it fearing an adverse effect on the government's image at a time when elections are near. Approval to open Gavit's case file would have opened the floodgates of demand for prosecution of other high-profile individuals figuring in corruption cases. At least a dozen senior leaders of the NCP and the Congress, including senior ministers, are facing graft charges.

"Both the chief minister and the deputy chief minister were opposed to Gavit's prosecution since sanction for it would have affected the stability of the government," said a senior minister. "Nobody wanted this sanction to come through as the rest of us would have met the same fate when our turn came. We just cannot prosecute ministers on the basis of mere allegations."