MUMBAI: The Bombay high court on Thursday appointed a special inquiry team (SIT) to probe allegations of kickbacks in contracts awarded by NCP MLA Chhagan Bhujbal when he was Public Works Department (PWD) minister and that he had resorted to “money laundering to convert that ill-gotten money.” In one case the allegation, backed by bank statements, was that an amount of Rs 82 crore was put by a “favoured contractor” into the bank account of a private company where Bhujbal or his family members were directors.
Bhujbal was PWD minister in the Cong-NCP government defeated in the October assembly polls.
Looking at the “seriousness of allegations” made by Aam Admi Party members in a public interest litigation, a bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice B P Colabawalla directed that the probe team comprise the director of the Enforcement Directorate, New Delhi and director general of Maharashtra’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
The order recorded submissions made by Anil Anturkar, counsel for petitioners, that as cabinet minister, Bhujbal had given contracts for projects including a multi-crore furniture contract at Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi, redevelopment of MIG Colony in Bandra (East) and the furnishing of High Mount guest house.
The petitioners demanded that the court direct an inquiry since “no action has been taken at all by agencies on representations so far.” There are 11 allegations against Bhujbal, said ACB counsel Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who added the agency would conduct an open inquiry. State advocate general Sunil Manohar said the government had already announced an open inquiry in a PIL before the Nagpur bench and added the state would not interfere with the ACB inquiry.
The HC said to ensure there is no undue delay, SIT would look into “three cases where for consideration of granting contracts substantial amounts were put by contractors into bank accounts of privately held companies where Bhujbal, son Pankaj, nephew Sameer and other family members or members of staff of Mumbai Education Trust were directors of or were associated with.” The court said SIT will probe “specific instances mentioned by the PIL.” In one case, contractor Chimankar Enterprise between Dec 2007 and May 2011 paid Rs 3.67 crore into the account of a company Bhujbal controlled. Some directors of “dummy companies” were “gardeners” at MET, said Anturkar. The court took into account that “for over a year no action was taken” and it was “only after filing the PIL that the state wrote to ACB.”
Bhujbal’s counsel S G Aney, his son’s counsel Prasad Dhakephalkar, and Anil Sakhare, who appeared for a contractor, argued the PIL was politically motivated and “without foundation”, and anyway no efforts were even taken to follow the law before directly approaching the HC. Bhujbal in his reply denied all allegations as “false and bald.”