Tuesday was a day of double delight for the Congress-led Democratic Front government in Maharashtra after reports by the Adarsh inquiry commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted in the legislature provided relief to the ruling combine. The Adarsh probe panel held that the land on which the controversial building stands belongs to the state and not the defence establishment. Even the CAG report apparently did not mention any specific names involved in wrongdoings. This morale booster prompted some ruling party politicians to lash out at newspapers and electronic media for putting them in the dock.
During the state cabinet meeting held yesterday morning at Vidhan Bhavan to discuss the two-member Adarsh inquiry commission report, ministers appeared relieved, as the findings were favourable for the state government. In this brief concourse where it was decided to table the report immediately in the state legislature, a senior minister objected to media coverage. “The entire media has projected the political community as culprits who have violated codes on a number of counts while sanctioning land to Adarsh society,” said the minister according to sources.
“They have given us (the political class) a bad name and a breach of privilege motion should be moved against the media,” the minister is said to have demanded. Interestingly, the minister was from NCP, a party with a reportedly limited role in the entire Adarsh episode – only a few of its leaders have allegedly benefited directly or indirectly with memberships in the highly controversial society.
A minister belonging to Congress, whose senior party colleagues have been facing a slew of allegations, said the issue was over as the probe panel has clearly said the land belongs to the state and it was not reserved for the housing of defence personnel or Kargil war heroes. Some of the ministers even suggested bureaucrats currently facing a number of charges for granting various permissions to society in lieu of membership should also be protected.
The backlash at the media continued in the assembly when the CAG report on land deals was laid before the House by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. Industries Minister Narayan Rane and PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, both of whom were reported as beneficiaries of prime pieces of land in the name of educational institutes after the CAG report was leaked by BJP MLA Devendra Fadnavis, were quite aggressive in their stance.
Submitting their personal clarifications, both leaders vehemently denied any wrongdoings in the allotment of land. While demanding inquiry into the leakage of the report, Bhujbal said it was a conspiracy to destabilise the government.
Rane said it was a clear case of breach of privilege of the House, as even before the report was tabled, contents of it were made available to media. “The report did not have our names but such information was provided to media, which carried it with our pictures,” said Rane, flanking a few clippings of the media reports. He requested Speaker Dilip Walse Patil to accept the motion suo motu as the privilege of the House was breached.
Later, home minister RR Patil announced a probe by crime branch of Mumbai police into the leak. The Opposition termed it as an attempt to put pressure on a constitutional body like CAG, and as they raised a number of issues vociferously, proceedings of the assembly had to be adjourned on four occasions. Amidst the din, Bhujbal questioned the authority of CAG to make remarks on the state government’s policy decisions. Fadnavis, on the other hand, objected to the probe saying it amounts to pressurising a constitutional institution.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan moved a proposal, requesting the Speaker to direct the public accounts committee (PAC) to take up the CAG report on priority. Currently, PAC is discussing the CAG report of 2005-06 and will take a few more years to take up the current one.
“PAC should take up the latest report so that the government can make its position clear,” said Chavan. As Nawab Malik, who was in the Chair, accepted the CM’s proposal, Opposition members objected, demanding immediate debate in the House.