Mumbai: Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan says that he has not abused his position as the Chief Minister to help his relatives get flats in Mumbai's controversial Adarsh Society.
The 31-storey high-rise in Colaba has become the catchment area for a massive political controversy. It was meant to be used to provide heavily-discounted housing for war widows and veterans. Instead, the welcome sign might as well read "VVIPs live here."
Former army chiefs, politicians and bureaucrats have all been allotted flats here for a fraction of the market rate. Records show that two members of Chavan's family - he describes them as distant relatives - are among the 104 people allotted flats in the Adarsh Society. However, he stressed that they have not taken possession of these flats and are willing to return them.
"I want to make it clear that when you mean family, it means my wife and kids. Beyond this there is no question of family. If there are long distance relatives and they have, in their own capacity, approached the society to get those flats, and they are eligible for it, what is the reason for refusing the flats to them? I don't want to defend any of that but that is their individual call. The media reports claiming my relatives have taken possession of 4-5 flats is completely untrue. None of my relatives have taken direct possession of any of the flats," the Maharashtra Chief Minister said.
Any allegations that he influenced the allotment of flats, Chavan says, are politically motivated.
"When the government was asked for the land, I wasn't the Revenue Minister, nor was I the Chief Minister," said Chavan.
That's a claim few will buy. In 1999-2000, when the file was being processed, he was the Revenue Minister, a department that deals with land allotments in the state. And when the project got its final clearance by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), he is chief minister, and the MMRDA reports to him.
Asked if he felt he should step down while the CBI inquiry was on, Chavan said "there is no such (sic) need. Every day some thing or the other goes on in politics. I have been in politics for 40-45 years, one faces difficulties."
"No decision has been taken under inducement," Chavan replied to a query. "Action should be taken against those offering inducement," he added.
Chavan says he has asked the MMRDA to revoke occupancy certificate granted for the building till Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) gives its clearance.
The Navy had recently opposed the granting of the certificate, citing security concerns. "The land belongs to the state government, based on the Collector's records. Revenue department land granted to the Society as per GR of 9.7.1999," Chavan said.
The CBI is now investigating the scam. Stung by allegations that senior army officials were part of a conspiracy to grab flats they were not eligible for, the Army has announced its own inquiry.
The Maharashtra Chief Minister has now been asked to come to Delhi by the Congress High Command on Saturday - a clear indication that his explanation at the press conference is not sufficient. He is likely to meet party chief Sonia Gandhi and Defence Minister AK Antony, who is also the Congress General Secretary in-charge of Maharashtra.(Watch)
Ministers involved in their own welfare: BJP Chief
Meanwhile, the BJP says the Adarsh Housing Society scam has maligned the image of Maharashtra government.
"The incident where a prime defence land was allotted to the society to house politicians, bureaucrats as well as service chiefs showed how the politicians were involved in their own welfare rather than that of the state," BJP president Nitin Gadkari said here.
Terming the controversy as "unfortunate", Gadkari says he would not demand the resignation of Chief Minister Ashok Chavan since his late mother-in-law was also one of the beneficiaries. "We would wait for CBI investigations to be completed and watch what action the government takes in this regard," he said.