by Ivor Soans Dec 19, 2013 14:54 IST
Now that temperatures over the Devyani Khobragade arrest in the United States are cooling down, perhaps it's time to take a more measured look at the entire affair and look at the larger controversy that Devyani is involved in, or at least the one that more common Indians would be interested in, given the widespread frustration with corruption.
The US has made soothing noises about what happened in New York, even while it strongly holds to its position that Khobragade violated US law and US Attorney and prosecutor Preet Bharara seemingly terming Devyani a liar by claiming she wasn't handcuffed or restrained and was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants are accorded, which extended to use of her phone.
While a strip search seems way too excessive, the Indian government and various political parties have been all sound and fury on Devyani's US arrest, with some like Yashwant Sinha even saying partners of gay American diplomats should be arrested as homosexuality is a crime in India, perhaps not realising that this would put India in the august company of the most repressive regimes in the world as also the infamous Taliban. However, as a columnist points out in a measured article on the question of diplomatic immunity in DNA, the fact is the Indian government is yet to deny the fraudulent visa application for which Khobragade has been charged. The columnist goes on to add that the US would be well within its rights to declare Devyani persona non grata.
So, even as it's clear that there are two sides to every coin, how about looking at Devyani Khobragade and the infamous Adarsh scam that rocked India a few years ago and which is again in the news thanks to the Maharashtra government seemingly trying its very best to avoid tabling the Adarsh Commission Report in the legislative assembly and thus making it public? Added to this is the fact that the Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan has refused to allow the CBI the mandatory go-ahead for prosecution of former chief minister Ashok Chavan who lost his job in the wake of the Adarsh scam. This decision seems suspicious, given that CBI sources told The Times of India they had strong evidence against Chavan and they had made an extensive presentation to the Maharashtra governor to back up their request for sanction to prosecute Chavan.
Adarsh leapt to the national limelight in 2010 when the co-operative housing society built on allegedly defence land and supposedly for Kargil war widows and defence personnel, was found to have flats owned by politicians and their relatives as well as relatives of bureaucrats, clearly pointing to a land grab at one of Mumbai's most lucrative locations.
Devyani Khobragade owns a flat in the infamous Adarsh. Her father Uttam Khobragade was one of the bureaucrats who allegedly misused their positions to help Adarsh. It was during his tenure as general manager of BEST, the civic-owned bus and electricity utility in Mumbai, that the Adarsh Society got additional building rights from an adjacent BEST bus depot. This allowed the society promoters to increase the original plan of six floors to a massive 31 floors. While the Khobragades may want us to believe this is mere coincidence, only other bureaucrats and politicians caught with their hands in the Adarsh till may take such a claim at face value.
That's not all when it comes to Devyani's real estate holdings in Mumbai. When she got the Adarsh flat, she already owned a flat in another government housing society in Oshiwara, which too was allotted under the state government's 10 per cent quota where recipients get flats at extremely cheap rates as compared to Mumbai's stratospheric market prices, and which is another fount of corruption in Mumbai, with most flats cornered by politicians and their relatives, and of course bureaucrats and their relatives, and those connected to their powers that be, making a mockery of the 10 percent quota supposedly for helping citizens who need it most. As the Economic Times reports, a massive 42 percent of such flats allocated in the past 10 years were resold by allottees at much higher prices, making a killing in the bargain at the expense of the taxpayer and the common Indian. Things have become so bad with the 10 percent quota that the Bombay High Court recently warned the Maharashtra government of contempt if it continued to stonewall requests to name double and multiple allottees of such flats.
In Devyani's case, what makes the issue even murkier is the guideline which states that no one can get flats in two housing societies which get land on concessional rates and they have to give an affidavit to this effect. However, when Uttam Khobragade was asked about this violation and material non-disclosure of facts on the part of Devyani by the Adarsh Commission, he said that it was not his duty to inform the Adarsh Co-operative society that Devyani had also been allotted a flat in Oshiwara under the 10 percent quota. However, does this mean that Devyani has submitted a fraudulent affidavit at Adarsh to get the Adarsh flat? This is a question that needs to be answered and paper trail can easily prove this.
Meanwhile, leave alone Devyani and her possible aspirations to become a Mumbai real estate mogul, the Maharashtra government is trying its very best to push the 31-storey Adarsh jack back into its box even when it’s clear that the judiciary and the opposition in the state is in no mood to let this come to pass.
In a shocking flip-flop that might be funny if it were not for the fact that the government has spent Rs 7 crore on the Commission enquiring into the scam and the many more crores may be lost in illegal gains sought to be made by beneficiaries of Adarsh, the Maharashtra government first told the Bombay High Court it would table the Adarsh Commission report as required in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and then backtracked by claiming it was only a verbal promise.
When the Bombay High Court was not amused with the contortions being performed by the government and this was belatedly realised by the state, a new promise was made that the report would be tabled in the winter session of the Maharashtra assembly that ends on 20 December.
So, more worms will likely come out of the woodwork when the report is tabled and while Devyani Khobragade's New York arrest and the resulting fracas may be close to being pushed under the carpet as saner heads take over in Washington and New Delhi, the last has not been heard on Devyani Khobragade's Adarsh controversy that includes not just her but many powerful politicians and bureaucrats and is definitely the controversy the common Indian would be more interested in getting to the bottom of.
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