In a relief for former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Bombay High Court today quashed and set aside Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao's sanction granted to the CBI in 2016 to prosecute the senior Congress leader in the Adarsh Housing scam.
In a relief for former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, the Bombay High Court today quashed and set aside Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao’s sanction granted to the CBI in 2016 to prosecute the senior Congress leader in the Adarsh Housing scam. A bench of Justices Ranjit More and Sadhana Jadhav held that the sanction granted by the governor could not be “sustained” since it was not based on any fresh material produced by the CBI that could be considered as plausible “evidence” by courts during trial. “It was permissible for the Hon’ble Governor (Rao), the sanctioning authority in the present case, to review or reconsider the earlier decision of the erstwhile governor’s (his predecessor Governor K Sankaranarayanan) decision not to grant sanction, since the CBI claimed that some fresh material had surfaced after the earlier sanction was refused,” the bench said. “However, the agency (CBI) failed to present any fresh material capable of being converted into evidence that can be substantiated at the time of trial. Therefore, in the absence of fresh material, the sanction cannot be sustained, and is quashed and set aside,” the bench said. The court was hearing a petition filed by Chavan challenging a decision of Governor Rao granting sanction to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to prosecute him in the Adarsh housing society scam. Chavan is among 14 retired and serving defence personnel, bureaucrats and politicians named as accused in the scam. The CBI has accused Chavan of approving additional floor space index (FSI) for the Adarsh society in posh South Mumbai, and accepting two flats for his relatives in return when he was the chief minister. He is also accused of illegally approving, as revenue minister earlier, allotment of 40 per cent of flats to civilians even though the society was originally meant for defence personnel. The CBI had proceeded with the case against Chavan after Governor Rao granted the agency a sanction in February 2016 to prosecute the former CM for offences of criminal conspiracy, and cheating under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, and under various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
However, Chavan had challenged Rao’s order in the high court, calling it “arbitrary, illegal and unjust” and passed with “malafide intentions”. He challenged the sanction alleging that it was “politically motivated” and that there was no additional material warranting review of the decision. His counsel had also argued that the 2016 order was motivated by change in political circumstances. The CBI, however, had denied the charges and cited as fresh material the findings of the report of a judicial commission set up by the government to inquire into the Adarsh scam, and on a previous single bench order of HC that had rejected Chavan’s plea seeking that his name be removed from the list of the accused in the case. The division bench, however, held in today’s judgement that neither the judicial committee’s report, nor the single bench’s order were capable of being converted into credible evidence.
“While the material which is required to be considered by the sanctioning authority is not limited to the evidence collected by the investigating agency during the course of initial investigation, such material must be admissible and capable of being converted to evidence which can be substantiated at the trial stage,” the bench said. The bench also rejected CBI counsel Hiten Venegaonkar’s argument that the validity of the governor’s sanction against Chavan could only be tested in trial court. Venegaonkar 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.