The Bombay High Court on Thursday said the judiciary and agencies like the RBI, CBI and ED should act independently, and asked “what heavens are going to fall” if an interim protection from coercive action is granted for a few days to NCP leader Eknath Khadse in an alleged land grab case of 2016. A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale was hearing a petition filed by Khadse, seeking to quash the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in October last year.
Khadse’s counsel Aabad Ponda sought the court to grant the former state revenue minister interim protection from any coercive action, pending hearing of the plea. The ED’s counsel, Anil Singh, told the court that the agency would not take any action till Monday (January 25).
The bench while posting the petition for hearing on Monday, however, sought to know why the ED was insisting on protection to be granted only till Monday. “What heavens are going to fall if the petitioner is given protection for few more days? We are always of the belief that the judiciary and agencies like the RBI, CBI, ED and so on should act independently and impartially,” Justice Shinde said.
“There is a threat to the very democracy if these agencies do not act independently,” the court added. Khadse (68), who quit the BJP and joined the NCP In October 2020, appeared before the ED in Mumbai on January 15 this year to record his statement in the alleged land grab case, pursuant to summons issued against him.
The bench further noted that the petitioner was cooperating with the probe and has also appeared before the agency for questioning. “If somebody is ready to cooperate and honour summons then we ask ourselves what is the need for arrest,” the court said. “At the end of the day, he (Khadse) has cooperated and honoured the summons issued…he has appeared for questioning.
We can understand if someone is not cooperating,” Justice Shinde said. Khadse in his plea claimed the land in question was purchased by his wife and son-in-law from the owner legally and there was no illegality in the procedure.
In reply to Khadse’s petition, the ED in its affidavit on Thursday said an initial investigation has clearly revealed various evidences showing money laundering in the case. The ED claimed the ECIR was registered in October 2020 against Eknath Khadse, his wife Mandakini Khadse and son-in-law Girish Choudhari in the alleged land grab case in Pune, causing a loss of Rs 62 crore to the public exchequer.
According to the agency, the land was purchased at a low rate of Rs 3.75 crore with a criminal intent to later seek compensation from the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), which was to acquire the land in future. It alleged that Khadse misused his official position as state revenue minister in 2016.
“The petitioner (Khadse), using his official position and government machinery, manipulated the actual market price which was more than Rs 31 crore at that time,” the affidavit said. It said the petition seeking to quash the ECIR was premature and hence, should be dismissed.
Khadse in his petition claimed that an FIR was lodged in the same case in 2017, but the police later filed a closure report before a court in Pune. The ED in its affidavit said the court has till date not accepted the closure report and hence, the FIR is not closed.
The agency also said it was probing the money laundering angle in the case.