After it reinstated Adarsh-tainted bureaucrats Jairaj Phatak and Pradeep Vyas, the state’s law department has hastily removed two prominent lawyers who were representing the state in the Gharkul housing scam case of the late ’90s. The move has led to speculations that the government is shielding former Shiv Sena MLA and Housing Minister Suresh Jain, a prime accused in the case, and attempted to woo him during the Lok Sabha polls.
The two lawyers — N K Suryawanshi and P P Chavan — were representing the state government in the trial against Jain and 51 others accused of corruption. The Gharkul housing scheme was meant to provide homes for the poor in Jalgaon, and as then housing minister, Jain allegedly used his power to secure loans and advances, and siphoned off the funds.
With this move, the opposition is calling it an attempt by the Cong-NCP government to scuttle a probe into the scam and woo Jain, a prominent leader from the Khandesh region who heads the Khandesh Vikas Aghadi. The party had pledged its support in the recently concluded LS elections to anyone who helped their leader get out of the scam taint.
Senior officials of the state home department said the latest changes have been initiated ‘without taking a mandatory approval of the state home department, collector and district magistrate of Jalgaon’, which was the epicentre of the R216 crore alleged scam in the housing scheme. The home department has now opposed this move initiated by the law and judiciary department.
However, senior officials in the law and judiciary department clarified the two lawyers were removed after one of them was issued show-cause notice from the Bombay High Court on January 27, 2014, for delaying court proceedings.
The state home department has, in an attempt to block the move, recommended that the duo be replaced by none other than the advocate general himself. In his observations on the case earlier, the AG had said any changes in the team be initiated ‘subject to the outcome of the contempt’. “But, in this case, the government clearly was in a hurry and did not abide by the AG’s instructions and made changes without studying the contempt proceedings,” said a senior official.
The duo — N K Suryawanshi and P P Chavan – are considered to be top lawyers, and have pleaded the government’s case in several instances in the past. They were appointed with the common consensus of all departments on January 2, 2014. “No lawyers are appointed or removed in a case without the consent of the collector and the district magistrate of the area. Here, however, the process has been bypassed clearly to weaken the case,” said a senior police official who had first unearthed the whole scam.
Jain is facing charges of corruption along with 52 others, including corporators and builders found conspiring in the alleged scam. He is currently lodged in jail and Aurangabad bench of the High Court has stayed the case.
Confirming the development, P P Chavan said, “We haven’t received the termination letter yet, but we have been told our services are no longer required. We don’t want to comment any further on the matter.”
The Gharkul scheme project had a total cost of Rs 78.89 crore for which Rs 59 crore was disbursed to the Jalgaon municipal council. This money was allegedly siphoned off in the name of advances. Jain allegedly used his influence to secure loans. There is a total misappropriation of Rs 47 crore and wrongful loss to the municipal council worth Rs169 crore — a total of Rs 216 crore.