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Former police officer turned lawyer-activist Y P Singh said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was at the centre of Maharashtra’s irrigation scam. Addressing a press conference in Mumbai, Singh also accused Pawar of promoting the Lavasa Hill City project in the state, adding he would ensure a case was filed under the jurisdiction of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Maharashtra.
Pawar rejected the allegations levelled against him. “The Maharashtra government brought in hill station policy. Lavasa was built as per the hill station policy. There are no violations in Lavasa. Ajit Gulabchand has done pioneering work in building Lavasa hill station. I will not speak more as the matter is subjudice,” he said.
The NCP termed Singh’s press conference a publicity stunt and rubbished the charges against its leader. The party said Pawar had done nothing wrong by taking an initiative in the development of a hill city project in Maharashtra under the stipulated policy. NCP spokesman Nawab Malik asked why Singh was silent on the allegations levelled by anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal against BJP president Nitin Gadkari for allegedly taking over farm land.
Singh also lashed at Kejriwal for concealing information about such a massive scam in Maharashtra. Singh said Kejriwal was selective about which politicians to target. Singh also alleged that Kejriwal suppressed information about Sharad Pawar yesterday, when he spoke against BJP president Nitin Gadkari for allegedly colluding with the ruling NCP in Maharashtra to promote his business.
The accusation has been rejected by Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption (IAC), which said that it had exposed Pawar in May when it said he had vested interest in devising national agricultural policies. An IAC statement said that not only did it make these charges, but also went on an indefinite fast for 10 days with Anna Hazare, demanding a special investigation team be set up to look into the charges.
According to Singh, Pawar’s nephew and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar granted 341 acres to Lake City Corp on a 30-year lease at a paltry Rs 23,000 per month. In Mumbai, even a one-bedroom house commands more rent, Singh pointed out. He said that 20.81 per cent of the shares belonged to Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, and her husband Sadanand Sule. Supriya is Ajit Pawar's cousin. She had at least 10.4 per cent share in Lake City Corp. Singh alleged that Ajit Pawar gave the land to this company virtually free. “In 2006, Sule and her husband sold shareholding - but at what cost?” Singh asked.
Malik said that Supriya Sule and her husband had already sold their shares and they were no more associated with the Lavasa project. Malik said being a lawyer, Singh should not have opted for a ‘media trial’. “He should have made these arguments in the high court, instead of through a media trial. This is a poor attempt to get publicity,” said Malik.
In June 2008, Axis Bank valued the shares at Rs 10,000 crore. When Supriya sold the shares, the company should have been valued at least at Rs 5,000 crore. But she declared her assets to be worth Rs 15 crore. According to that, she sold her Lavasa shares for Rs 5 crore. But going by the Axis Bank valuation, she would have got at least Rs 500 crore. Ramesh Kumar, a revenue officer who exposed the irregularities in the scam, was victimised, Singh alleged.
“He (Sharad Pawar) has nothing to do with land-related matters in Maharashtra. But he interfered in that,” said Singh.
Singh alleged that Sharad Pawar and his nephew, who was then the irrigation minister, met the then chief minister and senior IAS officers in a guest house called Ekant in Lavasa, and decided to give Lavasa a global floating floor space index (FSI). He also released the minutes of that meeting.
Singh said Kejriwal knew these details. “I think he did. We don’t know whether there was money laundering. But on April 20, 2009, we had made a report - and Kejriwal was a part of that team. I was hoping we will expose that scam. But when I saw the small matter of Nitin Gadkari, and that too on a wrong legal point, it is for you to compare what he exposed and what I have presented today,” said Singh.
“How did Pawar hold a meeting with Maharashtra officials in the Lavasa guest house? He was Union Agriculture Minister; what jurisdiction did he have? How was a government meeting held in a private guest house?” Singh asked.
Take a dig at Kejriwal’s ‘hit and run’ style of exposing, Singh said he would be silent after allegations. “I had sent them a legal notice. I will pursue the corruption-related case now. I will not blame Kejriwal. I am a lawyer; Kejriwal is my client. A lawyer doesn't go to a client, so I cannot go to him,” he noted. Singh added that he had given Kejriwal all details of Lavasa, but wondered why he had a soft corner for Sharad Pawar.