Mumbai: Just weeks before the state assembly election, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis will have to face a criminal trial for allegedly failing to furnish details of two pending criminal cases in his election affidavit in 2014.
According to a report in PTI, the Supreme Court on October 1 set aside the Bombay high court’s order giving a clean chit to Fadnavis and observed that prima facie a case under Section 125 of the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act was made out against the chief minister. The division bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose directed the trial court to proceed with the case.
On July 23, the top court, while reserving the verdict, had said that the alleged “omission” by Fadnavis not disclosing information about two criminal cases in his election affidavit may be decided at the time of the trial. Section 125 of the RP Act deals with the penalty for “filing false affidavit” and states that “if a candidate or his proposer fails to furnish or gives false or conceals any information in his nomination paper on issues like pending criminal cases then the person may be awarded six months jail term or fine or both”.
The order was passed in a petition filed by Nagpur-based lawyer Satish Uke, who had challenged Fadnavis’ nomination papers and sought criminal actions against him for “suppressing the truth”. The two cases of alleged cheating and forgery were filed against Fadnavis in 1996 and 1998 but charges were not framed. Fadnavis had not mentioned these pending cases against him in his nomination affidavit, Uke alleged.
The chief minister’s office, when asked about the development, responded with the following: “The complainant filed a complaint in trial court that two cases which were private complaints filed by a lawyer against the chief minister were not mentioned in the affidavit of the chief minister. The case was argued in the trial court with a demand to prosecute CM for concealing the criminal cases in his election affidavit.
“The trial court dismissed the plea on which the complainant went to the Sessions court The Sessions court set aside the judgment and remanded it back to trial court saying it had not passed a speaking order. This order of the Sessions court was challenged by the CM in the high court and the high court set aside the order of the Sessions court and said no case is made out.
“The complainant went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has remanded back the case to trial court for fresh consideration. Hence it will again be heard in the trial court to ascertain weather a case for prosecution is made out or not. Hence it is totally wrong and contemptuous to say that Supreme Court has allowed prosecution.
“What are these two cases?
“1. In the early nineties when Devendra Fadnavis was corporator he filed a complaint to the government to remove a government pleader and published it in the press, against which the lawyer went for a criminal defamation case him. This defamation has now been withdrawn by the said lawyer.
“2. The second case is on a slum where Devendra Fadnavis as a corporator gave a letter to the corporation to apply a tax on slum properties. This land was under urban land ceiling dispute and the same lawyer mentioned above claimed that the land belongs to him and filed a complaint against the corporation authorities and Devendra Fadnavis. Later, this complaint was dismissed by the high court.
“3. In both the cases, Devendra Fadnavis was acting in public interest and no private interest was involved .
“4. This judgment of SC has no bearing on Devendra Fadnavis to continue as public representative or to contest the next election.”
Fadnavis, who began his political career in the mid-90s, has served the BJP in multiple leadership roles. He was first elected as a corporator of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation and then later as one of its youngest mayor. He has represented the Nagpur legislative assembly since 1999 and is serving his fourth term presently. He will once again be contesting from Nagpur South West constituency in the upcoming polls.
Last year, when Uke was aggressively following the case before the Nagpur sessions court, the Economic Offence Wing (EOW) of the Nagpur police had registered a case against Uke and had arrested him in a land grab case. Uke’s family alleged that the criminal action against him was initiated to intimidate him.
In 2009, Uke filed a criminal application before the Nagpur additional chief judicial magistrate alleging that Fadnavis had ‘misled the people’ by concealing information about two pending criminal cases in the affidavit submitted along with his nomination papers. Uke wanted criminal proceedings to be initiated against him. While the magistrate had rejected this application in 2014, Uke moved the higher court and managed to get a notice issued in the case.
This was not the first time Uke moved the court against Fadnavis. When one of the FIRs registered in 1992 against Fadnavis was quashed, Uke appealed against it. He also accused judicial officers of supporting Fadnavis. This move attracted contempt charges and in 2017, Uke was convicted for criminal contempt. He later moved the apex court challenging the order, but eventually rendered an apology to the high court and offered to withdraw his statements.
Most recently, Uke came into the limelight for his petition in the Bombay high court demanding compensation for the family of CBI judge B.H. Loya, whose death has raised multiple questions. Uke had relied on documents obtained from government offices to argue that since Loya was travelling to Nagpur for government work on the day of his death, his family was eligible for compensation. His petition is yet to be admitted in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court.