Land deal scam: Why it's time for Devendra Fadnavis to sack Eknath Khadse

Drowning in a deluge of controversies, Maharahstra’s Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse seems to be only filling his lungs with more water each time he opens his mouth for a gulp of fresh air.

Latest in this technically ill-advised move to stay afloat is his brazen attempt to defend his decision to facilitate the sale of a disputed plot in an industrial zone in Pune in favour of his wife Mandakini and son-in-law Girish Chaudhari.

Khadse’s wife and son-in-law acquired a three-acre plot in Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), Bhosari, from Abbas Ukani, a 90-year-old resident of Kolkata for just Rs 3.75 crore. The compensation was fixed, by Khadse’s own earlier admission, by him at a meeting in his office between the buyers and seller as, “per the ready reckoner rates” (thank god for small mercies).

 Land deal scam: Why its time for Devendra Fadnavis to sack Eknath Khadse

File photo of Eknath Khadse. PTI

Khadse explained his undue interest in the case to The Indian Express thus: “I also hold charge of the Department of Minorities Welfare and Revenue. He (Abbas Ukani) wanted to sell the land and sought my help. Ukani is now 90 years old. And since his matter is in court, he has to travel to Mumbai and so he wanted to sell the land. Ukani urged me to look for a good buyer saying his efforts were not yielding any results. Since the matter was in court, and the land title was in the name of Ukani, prospective buyers were not willing to put their money.”

The Indian Express further quotes him: “I informed him (Ukani) that I cannot buy the land in my name since I am a minister. To which, he indicated that my family could buy. I verified the legality from the industries department and MIDC. And only after a verification did I give the nod to my wife and son-in-law to buy the land.”

The minister’s defence is simple. He was extending humanitarian assistance to a 90-year-old man. In the process, so what if some close family members helped themselves to a lucrative piece of land whose ownership should have rested with the MIDC but is now being contested in court?

One would’ve loved to compliment the minister for his readiness to assist a nonagenarian to get rid of a troublesome plot but for this little irritant called the Constitution of India.

In any state in India, every minister takes the following oath, as mandated in Schedule 3, Para V of the Indian Constitution:

“I, AB, do swear in the name of God/ solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, 1 [that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, ] that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as a Minister for the State of ..........and that I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

Similarly, Schedule 3, Para VI mandates:

“I, AB, do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person or persons any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as a Minister for the State of ....................except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as such Minister.”

It is clear that Khadse failed this oath on many counts. Firstly, when Upani approached Khadse for “help”, the fact that the land “owner” wanted a way out was information that “became known” to him “as a minister of the state of Maharashtra” and he was thus bound by that oath not to “directly or indirectly” reveal the information to “any person or persons”. The “due discharge of his duties as minister” required him to make the first call to his colleague in the Ministry of Industry (Subhash Desai) and not to his family.

The minister works for the government of Maharashtra and it was his duty to ensure that if the owner of a plot, in dispute with MIDC, wanted to bail out, that land came back to MIDC.

The word in the corridors of Mantralaya is that there is a political conspiracy against Khadse. That might well be the case, who knows. But what becomes apparent from his schoolboy-ish explanation for his questionable behaviour — and his naïve expectation that it will fly — is that nothing that has been said about him has damned Khadse more than what Khadse himself has revealed.

Forget about the rest of the controversies that have erupted. For this grave misdemeanour alone Khadse deserves to go.

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Updated Date: May 31, 2016 17:16:51 IST