There was euphoria among the Congress leaders soon after the tabling of the interim report of the two-member inquiry commission led by Justice (retd) J A Patil, which is currently probing the controversial Adarsh Housing Society land deal. But the happiness evaporated soon, even though the commission stated that the land belongs to the state government.
The housing society had argued recently in Bombay High Court that the CBI has no right to probe the case, as the state government has not given its consent for the same. Surprisingly, the state counsel too ratified the stand taken by Adarsh Society. It has become a subject of wide ranging debate in political circles and the state government affidavit to be filed by July 4 as per the directions of the HC will make the stand of the Congress-led government clear on it. The CBI too has avoided filing chargesheets despite the 10-day time period given to it for the same, which expired on June 28.
Apart from this, the submissions of three former CMs — Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil-kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan — last week has been interesting. The trio, who held the post of chief minister around the time of the dubious land deals, have been indulging in rampant mudslinging, sought to put the blame on each other. As per the rules, the chief minister of the state has powers to decide allotment of land in Mumbai, the cost of which is beyond Rs 25 lakh. Now in a city like Mumbai, even a small plot is sure to fetch over Rs 25 lakh.
While Shinde said that the letter of intent was issued to Adarsh a few hours before he was sworn in, Deshmukh and Chavan have blamed each other. They have also blamed their bureaucrats, saying they did not read the contents of files or the list of members, but signed papers that their subordinates handed them. Such a submission raises alarming questions — do they sign each and every letter or file without reading it properly? If so, then what is their function?
According to the Mantralaya rules, once the CM endorses a paper, he has to be kept in the loop regarding any further development in the matter. But the bureaucracy in our democratic setup is notorious for taking liberties to decide crucial matters, even when they know that the decision-making authority is not just a minister, but the chief minister.
Three ex-CMs have forgotten that their submissions will be used as precedent in the future by the bureaucracy. Already, the state’s status as the best administered in the country has taken a beating due to the complicity of babus in the Adarsh case. And the three former CMs are senior leaders of the Congress, who have spent a maximum period of their political careers lounging in seats of power.
So when two of them say that they were not aware of a particular issue during their tenure, such assertions of naivete are sure to raise suspicions about their competency in the public mind.
The CM holds the most powerful seat in the state, so when he says he signed Adarsh papers blindly at the bidding of the secretary, it doesn’t absolve him of responsibility at all.
Yes, it must be acceded that it is difficult for any CM to go through all the files submitted to him for approval. But even as we admit to this, we shouldn’t forget that the CM’s office is the best staffed, with the maximum number of workers, between 125 and 160. Of these, at least three are IAS officers, seven to eight are joint secretaries or deputy secretaries, in addition to undersecretaries and desk officers, officers on special duty and private secretaries. All of them are assigned specific tasks — to go through files and prepare notes for the CM alone. So it’s true that often, the CM has no option to go by what the officers from his secretariat have to say on a particular matter, before signing a particular file. But having said that, the CM cannot suddenly distance himself from the bureaucrats.
Whether it’s a CM or his cabinet colleagues, the bureaucracy is chosen and formed carefully, on the merit of confidence only. It’s not easy for an official to fool his boss, as their private secretaries carefully read each and every paper forwarded to them. In the CM’s secretariat, secretaries from the IAS cadre carefully peruse the files.
In this particular case of Adarsh, approximately 20 letters were written on behalf of the society to the then CMs and secretaries of the Urban Development department, apart from a number of letters to revenue and other departments. Significantly, almost each and every letter has endorsements by the concerned authorities.
All said and done, the political leaders may be saved by the absence of important documents from the missing file. It had crucial notes inserted by the highest authorities, along with their comments. But now, only the correspondence is available, and not the notes signed by the cabinet members. If these were still available, the political class would have been nailed beyond doubt.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY