Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh appeared before the two-member Adarsh Enquiry Commission on Tuesday. Vilasrao Deshmukh arrived at the Commission's office in the afternoon at 02:30pm. He was accompanied by his son Amit Deshmukh and Congress MLA Amin Patel. His deposition will continue on Wednesday. The 67-year-old Congress leader from Latur shrugged off responsibility for the scam and chose to put the onus on bureaucrats and other departments.
Vilasrao Deshmukh told the commission "The letter pertaining to Adarsh Cooperative housing Society came up before me in the year 2000...I read the subject matter of this letter only and forwarded this letter to the concerned officer...I do not know what action, if any, was taken on this letter by the department."
Mr Deshmukh added "I did not read the contents of the letter when I received it. It is correct by this letter land was sought for the military officers CHS-Adarsh CHS in Block VI of Colaba division. When I received this letter I did not check up on the situation and the status of the land sought for it as it was the duty of the collector to look after the same."
Mr Deshmukh was relaxed throughout the deposition. When asked about why he had asked for the process of allotting land to be expedited, he informed the commission that the note "Please expedite" on a letter one of the accused in the case Kanhaiyalal Gidwani wrote to him was in fact in his handwriting. Mr Deshmukh explained "I wrote these words on the letter as Mr Gidwani had told me that the file was pending for a long time. He had access to me as he was a Member of the Legislative Council."
Vilasrao Deshmukh is the second former Chief Minister after Sushil Kumar Shinde to appear before the commission. Documents show when Vilasrao Deshmukh was Chief Minister a letter of intent was issued for the project. Land was earmarked for it by reducing a public road and building rights from an adjoining bus depot was transferred to Adarsh Society during his tenure. He was Chief Minister of Maharashtra from October 18, 1999 to January 16, 2003 and November 1, 2004 to December 4, 2008.
When the Commission told Mr Deshmukh the width of the road opposite Adarsh Society was less than the reduction the government had sanctioned he said, "I am not aware of it. I did not know that a state transport agency had opposed the reduction."
He added "It was never brought to my notice that the land in question was in possession of the Local Military Authority. Nobody brought it to my notice that a garden called Kukree Park existed on the land in question"
Senior Counsel for the Commission Dipan Merchant told NDTV after the deposition "Today I started the examination of Mr Deshmukh on the procedural aspects that are being followed in the Mantralaya. Mr Deshmukh said normally it is the secretaries of the various departments who bring the facts to the notice of the Chief Ministers. I have not yet finished asking him all the questions."
Like Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vilasrao Deshmukh insisted that the responsibility of checking facts and verifying details in files lay with bureaucrats and other departments.
On Monday Sushil Kumar Shinde had appeared before the Adarsh Enquiry Commission. He told the commission that "matters like Environmental clearance are not brought to the Chief Minister's notice and these issues are dealt by the concerned department. The Letter of Intent to Adarsh Society was issued before my taking charge as Chief Minister and not under my instructions. After the Chief Minister signs on the file, the administrative work is done by the officers at the Secretary and Deputy Secretary level. Officers from different departments process the file and study each and every aspect of it. Chief Ministers don't go through the entire file."
After Sushil Kumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh, former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan will appear before the commission by the end of this month. Mr Chavan is the only former Chief Minister to have been made an accused by the CBI which has registered an FIR against fourteen people and is also investigating the scam. The Enforcement Directorate is conducting a preliminary enquiry against Mr Chavan and thirteen others for alleged money laundering in case. Mr Chavan was Chief Minister of Maharashtra from December 8, 2008 to November 9, 2010.
The CBI which will file a chargesheet in the case soon has alleged in the FIR that in 2000, as Revenue Minister, Ashok Chavan cleared the inclusion of civilians into a building meant for Defence personnel. In exchange three of his relatives allegedly got flats. Later Chavan also granted building concessions by changing the area's development plan. He will appear before the commission on June 30.
The Adarsh Society housing scam was exposed in 2010 when it emerged that an illegal 104-apartment society had come up on a prime plot in South Mumbai, where key defence personnel, bureaucrats, and politicians owned flats. It later emerged that some of them had colluded to grab a defence plot and got an illegal environmental clearance. It also got other concessions by claiming Kargil war heroes and widows were part of the society.