Adarsh scam: court rejects governor's advice to exclude ex-CM Chavan

In a ruling that embarrasses Maharashtra governor K Sankaranarayanan as well as the state government, a special CBI court in Mumbai on Saturday rejected a Central Bureau of Investigation plea to drop criminal charges against former chief minister Ashok Chavan in Mumbai's Adarsh housing scam.

CBI court judge S G Dige, after asking the investigating agency why Chavan could not be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act, said in a terse ruling, ''I am rejecting this application.'' He said the reasons for the rejection would be recorded separately.

Chavan told enquiring newspersons, "I can't comment on the order right now. I don't know the outcome since I haven't seen the order; we will examine our options after going through the court's reasoning. Current Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan refused to comment on the ground that the matter is ''sub judice''.

As Chavan was the chief minister at the time the lid was blown off the housing scam, Indian law requires sanction from the state to prosecute him in a criminal case. Last month, the governor (appointed by the union government) went through the CBI charge-sheet and used his discretionary powers to decline it.

Bharat Badami, the CBI's advocate, said, ''We would be more than happy to prosecute Chavan but our hands are tied.''

He said any prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act must be supported by provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). However, this was not possible since Governor Sankaranarayan had refused the agency permission to prosecute Chavan on charges of criminal conspiracy and cheating.

Chavan (55) had stepped down as chief minister after his name was linked to the Adarsh controversy towards the end of 2010.

''The order needs to be studied in letter and spirit by our legal team. Only then we will decide the next step,'' CBI joint director Keshav Kumar said. ''If the CBI does not appeal it, they will have to summon Chavan.''

The CBI had said when it sought sanction to prosecute the former chief minister that it had strong evidence, having examined 150 witnesses and attached 160 documents from various departments in its charge-sheet.

The premier investigating agency had accused Chavan of approving additional FSI (floor space index) to Adarsh society in exchange for two flats for his relatives. Chavan was also charged with illegally approving as revenue minister allotment of 40 per cent of the flats to civilians when the society was allegedly meant for Kargil war widows and defence personnel.

Chavan had moved the high court against CBI's authority to probe the case. On his plea that CBI was required to seek prior sanction, the court directed the agency to seek approval.

The CBI gave a clean chit to two former chief ministers of the state, Sushil Kumar Shinde (now union home minister) and the late Vilasrao Deshmukh in the scam.