Ex-CM Ashok Chavan gets Bombay HC relief in Adarsh case

Mumbai: A day after a CBI court acquitted former telecom minister A. Raja and DMK leader Kanimozhi of corruption and money laundering charges in the 2G scam, the Bombay high court gave relief to former Maharashtra chief minister and Congress MP Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh society scam on Friday. The two court orders have come as big blow to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had highlighted both scams during its 2014 election campaign.

The court set aside a sanction given by governor Ch.Vidyasagar Rao to prosecute him in February 2016. It pointed out that in the absence of fresh material, the governor had no jurisdiction to review the order of the erstwhile governor. However, Mr Chavan can still be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act. In January, 2014, the trial court had also rejected the CBI application saying there was no sanction to prosecute him under the IPC.

A division bench comprising Justice Ranjit More and Justice Sadhana Jadhav was hearing a petition filed by Ashok Chavan, who challenged the governor’s sanction to prosecute him. His counsel, Amit Desai argued that the governor’s sanction is arbitrary and politically motivated. He further argued that in 2013, the then governor Sankarnarayanan had refused to give sanction to prosecute Mr Chavan under IPC and Prevention of Corruption Act as the CBI had insufficient evidence to go ahead with the prosecution.On October 8, 2015, the CBI again approached new governor. Mr Rao and put forth the order of the J.A.Patil Commission and that of the single bench in which the court had refused to delete Chavan’s name from the list of the accused as fresh evidence. On the basis of that, Mr Rao had revised the earlier refusal and gave his sanction.

The court order said, “The sanctioning authority is independent which cannot allow itself to be influenced by any opinion. Thus, this is the case of absence of material and in the absence of material, the earlier order of refusing sanction cannot be reviewed. It is not the case of non application of mind therefore, the same must be dealt with at the earliest possible in order to avoid ignominy to the public servant and this court can
entertain the writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.”

The court had refused additional Solicitor General Anil Singh’s contention that Mr Rao’s sanction can be challenged, but at the trial stage. The court said, “It would amount to abuse of process of law”.

“Neither the extract of the Justice J.A. Patil Commission report nor the order passed by the single judge of the court are admissible as evidence therefore, it cannot be considered.

“In the absence of fresh material, the governor has no jurisdiction to review the order of the earlier governor,” it said.

“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 investigation,” said Justice Ranjit More.

However, the court held that such material must be admissible and capable of being converted to evidence, which can be substantiated at the trial stage.