Maharashtra govt's 'favouritism' towards RSS and BJP-linked cooperative banks could harm Devendra Fadnavis' image
In just a three-week span in February, the Bombay High Court has nullified two government resolutions of Devendra Fadnavis administration attempting to favour specific cooperative banks in Maharashtra
The Bombay High court's recent judgements, pronounced in a three-week span in February, nullifying two Government Resolutions (GRs), each attempting to favour specific cooperative banks in the state, could cause damage to Devendra Fadnavis' carefully cultivated image of running a corruption-free administration.
Firstpost examined the manner in which the two institutions in question, TJSB Sahakari Bank and Maharashtra District Cooperative Bank (MDCB), came into being -
our enquiry showed that in so doing the Maharashtra government undermined its own "clean image".
File image of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI
TJSB Sahakari Bank issue
On 21 February, the Bombay High Court set aside the state government resolution asking the teaching and non-teaching staff of government schools in Thane to shift their salary accounts to TJSB Sahakari Bank, previously known as Thane Janata Sahakari Bank Ltd.
The court termed the resolution arbitrary and mala fide, questioning the rationale behind the move.
The court was hearing a petition filed by the Thane Zilla Shikshan Vibhag. The teaching and non-teaching staff already had salary accounts in the Thane District Central Cooperative Bank, but the state wanted them to shift those accounts to TJSB Sahakari Bank.
The petitioner said the government had even threatened to stop the disbursement of their salaries until they shifted their bank accounts.
The state government, however, denied that its decision on the shifting of salary accounts for the school staff in Thane was duplicitous.
When the bench asked why the government felt the need to shift the accounts from one cooperative bank to another, the state's counsel, Ram Apte whimsically said that the government had the power to change its mind.
The court blasted the government saying there seemed to be some “ulterior motive” behind shifting the accounts from the Thane District Central Cooperative Bank to TJSB Sahakari Bank.
So why was the government so keen to shift the bank accounts to TJSB Sahakari Bank?
JM Abhyankar, president of the Maharashtra Rajya Shishak Sena, an affiliate of the Shiv Sena, told Firstpost that the only reason the GR was passed “because the bank is controlled by people from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)".
“Earlier, the government had passed resolutions in Nagpur, Nashik, Latur and several other districts in the state asking teaching and non-teaching staff in schools to shift their accounts from one bank to the other. But, in those cases, the teaching and non-teaching staff were compelled to open accounts, in order to get their salaries disbursed in nationalised banks. This was done considering the fact that cooperative banks have a dubious record,” Abhyankar said.
Abhyankar’s allegations resonated with those of Kapil Patil, member of Maharashtra State Legislative Council and President of Janata Dal (United), Maharashtra. Patil told Firstpost that TJSB “has connections with the RSS and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)".
Do these charges hold ground?
TJSB Bank, founded in 1972, according to its official website, today has 135 branches spread across cities of Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
In May 2013, at the inauguration of the 82nd branch of TJSB in Bengaluru, Dattatreya Hosabale, joint general secretary of the RSS, had referred the bank as “an RSS-inspired initiative in the cooperative sector".
“Successful cooperative banks have emerged in Maharashtra and Gujarat, rising above the barriers, (but) the people of Karnataka will support the bank, which serves the community with a social vision. The TJSB belongs to the Sangh family where I am coming from,” Hosabale was quoted as saying by The Organiser, an RSS affiliated publication.
When contacted, Sunil Prabhakar Sathe, MD and CEO of TJSB Sahakari Bank, refuted the allegations and said that the question of whether or not TJSB has any connection with RSS has no relevance.
“Our bank is run on professional parameters. There is 100 percent transparency in the way we operate. They (the Opposition) are mixing up the things. There is no direct affiliation with any political party or any NGO,” Sathe told Firstpost.
However, when Hosabale’s statement from The Organiser was cited, Sathe said that the bank believes in the philosophy of Sarva Dharma Sama Bhav (equal respect for all religions) and said, “Yes, the bank is inspired by the ideology of the RSS. That's true. The bank is following the RSS ideology. But this was not the reason why the government took the decision. Had the TDCC's services been good, the government wouldn't have thought of passing the resolution."
“But, let me tell you we are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's ideology also. We admire the ideology of Subhash Chandra Bose, and we are inspired by VD Savarkar's thoughts. The bank is not part of Sangh Parivar. It is just following the RSS ideology. We are registered as a multi-state cooperative bank,” he added.
Speaking on the controversy, Madhav Bhandari, chief spokesperson, Maharashtra BJP said, “Is it a crime to have connections with the RSS?”
Abhyankar is of the opinion that these decisions might not have been taken at the chief ministerial level. He claimed that state education minister Vinod Tawde is taking these decisions arbitrarily. Tawde is someone who does not shy away from calling himself “a proud Sangh Sevak”.
Manmohan Vaidya, Akhil Bhartiya Prachaar Pramukh of RSS, said that the Sangh should not be dragged into this debate and added that if the Opposition is really interested in verifying something they should better check the bank’s performance and not its affiliations.
“There are around 60 lakh Swayamsevaks working all around India. Obviously, many of them work in various banks. But how could a bank be owned by the Sangh? RSS only has shakhas not banks,” Vaidya told Firstpost.
The MDCB controversy
In less then three weeks before the TJSB case, on 9 February, the Bombay High Court had stayed a similar decision of the state government that made it mandatory for all the teaching staff in govt-aided schools in Mumbai to shift their salary accounts to Mumbai District Cooperative Bank (MDCB).
The court had hit out at Tawde for issuing such an "irrational" resolution.
"When you (Tawde) were in the Opposition, then you were the one who levelled allegations against this bank (MDCB). And now, suddenly, this bank has become good," the court said while hearing a petition filed by a teachers' organisation, Shikshak Bharati, challenging the resolution.
MDCB's dubious record
In the MDCB case, the resolution was passed with the sole purpose of benefiting Pravin Darekar, who is a BJP MLC and chairman of the bank, alleges Abhynkar.
“I have worked in the government in various capacities, but I haven’t seen such kind of attitude. The government is passing resolutions one after another to benefit their own people,” said Abhynkar, who has worked as chairman of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education.
Denying the accusations, Darekar, however, said that the resolution was passed only on the basis of “performance of the bank”. The bank had promised the state government to give better services. Political connections had nothing to do with the government taking that decision, said Darekar.
“Even though I am the chairman of the bank, chairmen don't own a bank. The MDCB is a public property. It is not a private property of an individual. Besides chairman, the other members of the bank hold equal authority and they also have their say,” Darekar told Firstpost.
In March 2015, Darekar was booked for allegedly causing a loss of Rs 123 crore to the MDCB since 1998 by fraud and embezzlement of funds.
Darekar, in December 2017, was given a clean chit in the case in which he was accused of misusing his position in the bank for giving loans to his own relatives. Darekar, who was earlier with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), had quit the Raj Thackeray-led party in October 2014 and crossed over to BJP in January 2015.
Abhynkar said that if Darkar wouldn’t have changed the sides, he would have landed in jail.
Defending the state government decision to pass the resolution regarding MDCB, BJP spokesperson Bhandari said that if a BJP MLA or MP holds any position at an institution, it does not mean that the government shouldn't do any business with it. “Is there any such law which prevents the state government from doing so?” Bhandari asked.
Subhash More, working president of Shikshak Bharti told Firstpost that the government did not even bother to invite his organisation, the only government-recognised teachers’ body, for discussions, before passing the resolution regarding MDCB.
“Since BJP came to power in 2014, it seems like the government has been deliberately taking decisions that are inconvenient for the teachers’ fraternity. When Tawde was in Opposition he had accused the MDCB of being involved in Rs 412 crore scam. But, when his party came to power, Tawde passed a resolution favouring the same tainted bank. Isn’t it ironic?” More said.
He added that most of the cooperative sector in Maharashtra is controlled by Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
“BJP is nowhere in the picture. And that is the reason the government has been passing these GRs in order to make inroads into the cooperative sector in the state,” said More.
In March 2002, he was conferred the Padma Vibhushan award for his defense of freedom of speech and the protection of human rights
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