Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh Quits, Walse Patil to Take Charge

The Bombay high court has directed the CBI to first conduct a preliminary inquiry into the extortion charge and if it deemed fit, register a complaint.

Mumbai: It was only a matter of time before Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh had to step down. The allegations levelled against him were of a serious nature and the fact that they were made by former Mumbai top cop Parambir Singh could not have been ignored for long.  The Maha Vikas Aghadi government had tried its best to control damage in the state but failed to convince the Bombay high court.

On April 5, in five separate petitions clubbed together – including one by Singh himself – the high court directed the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations of corruption levelled by Singh. The court directed the CBI to first conduct a preliminary inquiry and if it deemed fit, register a complaint. Following this, Deshmukh tendered his resignation on moral grounds and left for Delhi. Now he and the Maharashtra government have jointly decided to move the Supreme Court against the Bombay high court’s order.

Dilip Walse Patil, a senior NCP leader and a close aide of party supremo Sharad Pawar, has been given charge of the Maharashtra home department. Walse Patil is currently holding the Labour and Excise portfolios.

It all started with an alleged bomb scare outside billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani’s residence Antilia in South Mumbai on February 25. The explosive-laden car, according to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), was planted there by arrested assistant police inspector Sachin Waze. As the investigation in the case took dramatic turns, Parambir Singh wrote a letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, accusing Deshmukh of extorting Rs 100 crores from different restaurants and bars in the city.

Singh wrote the letter soon after he was removed from the coveted commissioner’s post and sent to the home guards as its director-general, considered to be a side-posting.

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The division bench of the Bombay high court comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni observed that the allegations (levelled by Singh) have put the very faith of citizens in the functioning of the “police department at stake”.

The court, unwilling to be a “mere spectator” in the matter, observed, “If there is any amount of truth in such allegations, certainly it has a direct effect on the citizens’ confidence in the police machinery in the state. Such allegations, therefore, cannot remain unattended and are required to be looked into in the manner known to law when, prima facie, they indicate the commission of a cognizable offence. It is, hence, certainly an issue of credibility of the State machinery, which would stare at the face when confronted with the expectations of the law and when such complaints are received against high-ranking public officials.”

One of the petitioners, Jaishri Patil, had sought for CBI inquiry in the matter. Before moving the court, she had submitted a formal complaint with the Malabar Hill police seeking investigations in the allegations made by Singh. But no action was initiated.

The bench, deeming the matter fit for a CBI inquiry, observed, “…it is indeed unheard of and unprecedented that a minister could be so openly accused of wrongdoings and corrupt practices by none other than a senior police officer attracting wide attention from all and sundry.”

In his letter, Singh has claimed that Deshmukh had been in touch with Waze and had directed him to “accumulate Rs. 100 crore a month”.

“For achieving the aforesaid target, the Hon’ble Home Minsiter told Shri Vaze (sic) that there are about 1,750 bars, restaurants and other establishments in Mumbai and if a sum of Rs. 2-3 lakhs each was collected from each of them, a monthly collection of Rs. 40-50 crores were achievable. The Hon’ble Home Minister added that the rest of the collection could be made from other sources.”

Although this letter was submitted to the government, Singh continues to be in charge of the home guards. Deshmukh has already rubbished the claims made in the letter and other party leaders, including NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, have already spoken in Deshmukh’s favour.

The opposition, led by former CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis, have been training their gun on Deshmukh and have repeatedly sought his resignation and also police investigation.

Soon after the HC passed an order and Deshmukh stepped down from his post, his resignation was forwarded to the governor’s office. Walse Patil’s name began making the rounds soon after. The labour portfolio that was being held by Walse Patil has now been assigned to the rural development minister Hassan Mushrif. Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar will look after the excise department.