Preeti Sharma Menon
Success they say has many fathers. The moment there is a success story there are claimants, who wish to take credit for themselves. Then there are vested interests, who wish to give credit to certain persons. Then finally, there is the media who has its own agenda and promotes its set of preferred people.
The truth gets hidden somewhere in this cacophony and that’s what has happened in the Chhagan Bhujbal case.
It is solely on the Aam Aadmi Party PIL 23/2014 that an SIT was formed and the subsequent FIRs, ECIRs, attachments of properties, chargesheets, and arrests take place.
In 2013, when the AAP was just formed, people from all across the country thronged our party offices with stories of scams. They had finally found a party that could fearlessly take on the mightiest and stand up for the last person.
In almost all cases, the party did a due diligence to find out if there was merit in the story. If so, then we filed RTIs and found sources to get more information.
Based on our final conclusions, we did exposes, filed police complaints or went to court, at the district, state and national levels; and we continue to do so.
In one such instance, a group of people approached us with the story that as PWD Minister, NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal had given contracts to favoured builders by bending a number of rules and overruling processes. In return, the Bhujbal family received kickbacks through companies and trusts owned by them. The AAP Maharashtra team decided to investigate the matter further, we went to numerous sources, people who were privy to his transactions and put the story together.
The sources, many from Bhujbal’s close coterie and from the NCP, were scared of publically going against this much dreaded leader, so they gave us information on the condition of anonymity.
Please note, by “we” I mean the AAP Maharashtra team of that time.
The Mahrashtra Sadan story was already in the open, but it only involved the illegality of providing the contract.
The complaints filed by Kirit Somaiya of the BJP did not have a shred of proof and there was no mention of the kickbacks and the ramifications.
Kirit Somaiya filed a PIL merely on the contract of Maharastra Sadan, which he later withdrew. There was no order, and no action on his complaints.
On the other hand, the AAP Maharashtra team found full-proof evidence of kickback transactions in many contracts. We also had proof of money laundering through share transactions via benami companies.
On 26th August 2013 we filed complaints at all possible places – the ACB, the ED, the EOW, the CM and the Governor. However, none of them even took cognisance of the complaints.
We had no choice but to approach the Bombay High Court and we filed PIL 23 of 2014. Our AOR was Adv Sugandh Deshmukh and the Counsel was Adv Anturkar. There were 4 petitioners – the Aam Aadmi Party, the (then) State Convenor Ms Anjali Damania, the (then) State Secretary Preeti Sharma Menon (yours truly) and the (then) State Treasurer Mr Sanjay Parmar.
Anjali Damania and Sanjay Parmar are no longer in the party. I continue to be in the party and is the National spokesperson. We all continue to be the petitioners.
On 18 December 2014 the case was heard by the bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and he opined that there was clinching evidence of kickback and money laundering in the AAP petition. He formed an SIT comprising of Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) & Directorate of Economic Enforcement (ED) and gave them a two month period to investigate and report.
Needless to say, both agencies dragged their feet on the investigation. In April the Chief Justice slammed them and demanded that there should be tangible action soon. He also advised the revenue department to go ahead with the attachments of surplus lands taken from the Government by Bhujbals’s MET education trust in Nashik.
Due to this reprimand the ACB filed two FIRS – one about the kickbacks received in the Mahashtra Sadan and High Mount Guest house projects, another about the Kalina University Library project.
Taloja police station filed an FIR on the kickback received by in the MIG Colony redevelopment process by the Hexworld project in Taloja. On this basis the ED filed two ECIRs. There were also subsequent raids on the Bhujbal properties leading to their attachments.
Justice Mohit Shah retired, and the bench changed. The agencies went into a go-slow mode again. The Revenue Department did not act at all on taking back the land in Nashik.
On 28 January 2016 Justice Kanade and Justice Mohite-Dere slammed both the agencies again. They demanded to know why ACB had not filed the chargesheet and ED had failed to take action when the accused were ignoring the summons.
The Honurable High Court gave them one month time to act. The AAP had by then changed their lawyers – now the AOR is Adv Vijay Hiremath and the Counsel is Adv Gayatri Singh.
As a consequence of the direction of Justice Kanade and Justice Mohite-Dere in PIL 23 /2014 filed by the AAP, the ED arrested Sameer Bhujbal on 1st February 2016 and ACB filed one chargesheet on 24th February 2016.
On the next hearing on 26 February 2016, the ACB committed that they would file the remaining chargesheets within a month. The ED then arrested Chhagan Bhujbal on 14 March 2016 on 19 1 of PMLA Act – basically on money laundering.
As you can see, that it was the Honourable Bombay Hight Court that formed the SIT and forced it to act. The ACB which is under the BJP State government is still on a go-slow mode and the BJP Revenue Department has totally failed to act. It was only the constant monitoring by the HC that forced them to take action as the evidence is clinching. The ED has found 850 crores of money that has been laundered, among other things. In other cases – like say the irrigation scam where there is no Court monitored inquiry, the BJP government has ensured that no action takes place. The BJP government is shielding corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and contractors.
The crux of the Bhujbal Kickback Scam
The Bhujbal family received money through all of the builders, involved via benami companies, into the accounts of their companies and trusts.
The AAP Maharashtra team found full-proof evidence of kickback transactions in contracts that included not just Maharashtra Sadan but also projects like the Bandra MIG Colony Redevelopment, Kalina University Library, Mumbai Nashik Toll Road, High Mount Guest House and Thane Roadworks.
The builders included Chamankar Enterprises, Prime Builders and Developers, DB Realtors, Akruti City Limited, Kakade Infrastructures, Ashok Buildcon, India Bulls Real Estate Limited, and Bharat Udyog Limited. The money first went into “Benami” accounts, often owned by employees of MET and the relatives of employees. From there it went into companies and trust of Bhujbal families.
The Money Laundering Scam
AAP further showed anomalies in the way shares of Bhujbal companies were sold at high premiums even though they were non-performing. The monies came through a web of shell companies and then found its way to safe havens abroad.
The AAP is confident that since the evidence provided is so clinching, the truth will prevail and the Bhujbals will be convicted. Their arrest is huge success in the fight against corruption. We understand that now many NCP leaders are terrified about what might happen to them. We hope it will inspire many people to fight the powerful corrupt people.
The author is an AAP leader and party’s Mumbai-based spokesperson. Views expressed here are the author’s own and jantakareporter.com doesn’t subscribe to them.