Another trust scam exposed

BY Prabhakar Kulkarni| IN Regional Media | 26/12/2011
Marathi daily Loksatta has revealed the likely link between a huge donation received by a Minister's trust and the governmental sanctions accorded to the donor.
PRABHAKAR KULKARNI narrates the story that rocked the legislature session.
The Marathi daily, Loksatta, of the Express group carried a news story revealing that the real estate giant, India Bulls, had donated Rs. 2.45 crore to Bhujbal Foundation, a public trust of Chagan Bhujbal—the Public Works Department Minister in Maharashtra and leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Four days later, the issue was raised in the current Legislative  Assembly session at Nagpur, when Opposition party members demanded Bhujbal’s resignation, but also raised two more similar cases of public trusts of a Congress Minister Harshwardhan Patil and NCP Minister Ganesh Naik.     
The first story by the daily’s Mumbai correspondent Nishant Sarvankar (published on Dec 9) has exposed that the donation given to the Bhujbal Trust is made for the Nashik Festival organised by the Trust. However, during the same period, India Bulls received various high-cost projects from the State PWD. The story has given details of the amount deposited through cheques in Bhujbal Trust’s account—in the Nashik branch of the Mumbai-based Sarswat Cooperative Bank—from the India Bulls account in HDFC Bank’s Mumbai branch, and Bank of India’s branch in New Delhi.
In this period, a space near Santacruz, measuring 7,000 sq. metres, was given to Indian Bulls by the PWD for constructing a State library building. The news report has pointed out that development rights and permission to build on about half the area for residential and commercial purposes were accorded to the company besides allocating valuable land at a meagre price.                     
In the same report, the clarifications issued by both the India Bulls Company and Minister Bhujbal have been carried. India Bull’s chief executive officer, Gagan Banga, has said that they have a power project worth Rs. 14,000 crore at Nashik, and hence they have been sponsors for Nashik Festival each year. The donation given is in view of social commitment and has nothing to do with the space offered at Santacruz, Mumbai. Bhujbal has stated that the land offer at Santacruz and the donation to Bhujbal Trust are two different issues; and India Bulls’s project at Nashik is the reason why they are donating on the occasion of  Nashik Festival.    
The story triggered aggressive reaction by Opposition in the legislature session. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena legislator demanded the resignation of Bhujbal and eradication of corruption in the PWD. BJP legislator Eknath Khadse alleged in the House that similar donations had been made to Shahajiraje  Pratishtan of Congress Minister Harshwardhan Patil and Shivshakti Trust of NCP Minister Ganesh Naik. 
 Although Patil denied the allegation of any wrong dealing in the Trust, Khadse  demanded that an inquiry be ordered into the dealings of the trusts.

This may well be interpreted as history repeating itself, in view of the famous Antulay case—in which the then Chief Minister of Maharashra, A.R.Antulay, was accused of offering cement from the government quota to builders and accepting donations of Rs.40 per ton to the trust called Indira Pratibha Pratishtan. The case was heard in the High Court, and Justice Lentin’s verdict against Antulay compelled him to resign. This case was cited in the current Assembly by MNS MLA Bala Nangaonkar, who said, “the misdeeds of former CM Antulay were exposed by the then Opposition leader Sharad Pawar. Now, Pawar should apply the same yardstick and ask Bhujbal to resign.”

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