Adarsh scam: HC sets aside ex-CM Ashok Chavan's prosecution

Former chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan will not be prosecuted in the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai, the Bombay High Court said today, setting aside the governor's sanction to act against the Congress leader.

This is the second setback in two days for the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was on Thursday told by a special court that it had failed to prove charges against the accused in the 2G spectrum 'scam' (See: Special court exonerates all accused in 2G spectrum 'scam').

A division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Sadhana Jadhav ruled that though the CBI had claimed to be in possession of fresh evidence against Chavan at the time of seeking the sanction to prosecute him, which was granted by Maharashtra governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, it ''failed to present any fresh evidence''.

Chavan, 59, had to quit as chief minister in 2010 over charges that he flouted rules to help the Adarsh Society in exchange for apartments.

Three flats were allocated to members of Chavan's family in the building when he was the state's revenue minister between 1999 and 2004.

The bench said the material presented by the CBI before governor Rao could not be converted into credible fresh evidence against Chavan. ''The sanctioning authority is an independent body that can't allow itself to be influenced by anyone's opinion,'' the court said.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by Chavan challenging the sanction granted by the governor in February 2016 to prosecute him under various sections of the Indian Penal Code related to criminal conspiracy and cheating, besides provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Chavan had challenged Rao's order in the High Court, calling it ''arbitrary, illegal and unjust'' and passed with ''mala fide intentions''.

Chavan, currently the president of the Maharashtra unit of the Congress, had served as the chief minister from December 2008 to November 2010 before he was asked by the Congress high command to step down over charges of corruption in the Adarsh scam.

The CBI has accused Chavan of approving additional floor space index (FSI) for the Adarsh Society in the posh Colaba area of South Mumbai, and accepting two flats for his relatives in return.

He is also accused of illegally approving, as revenue minister earlier, allotment of 40 per cent of flats to civilians though the housing was originally meant for defence personnel.

The CBI had earlier told the HC that if Chavan's petition is allowed, it would amount to his acquittal, which would render the entire probe exercise futile.

The Adarsh Housing Society was on paper meant to house war veterans and widows - a category error according to the judge who studied the issue, because the land belonged to the government and not the army.

Governor Rao's sanction to the CBI to prosecute Chavan in 2015 came three years after the governor's predecessor had refused the request. At the time, the Congress was governing Maharashtra and the move was seen as a blatant attempt by a party-appointed governor to protect Chavan.

Vidyasagar Rao had based his decision on the advice of the council of ministers, which had relied on the report of a judicial commission that investigated the Adarsh scandal. Chavan, currently a Congress parliamentarian from Nanded, had testified before the commission as had his family.