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New Delhi, October 30, 2010
Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan met Congress President Sonia Gandhi to give his side of the story on the controversy surrounding the Adarsh Cooperative Group Housing Society in Mumbai and offered to tender his resignation from his post.
Mr Chavan, who was summoned by Ms Gandhi to meet her in Delhi in the wake of the embarassing scam, told reporters on his way out of her 10, Janpath residence that he had given all the relevant information about the project to Ms Gandhi.
The controversy has dominated media headlines in the last few days after it emerged that several civilians, including some of Mr Chavan's relatives, and some top army and navy officials, including three former service chiefs, had been allotted flats in the society that was apparently meant for the families of soldiders killed during the Kargil war.
Mr Chavan said he had apprised Ms Gandhi of all the facts in the case, including his position that the land allotted for the project belonged to the State Government and not to the Army, as had been claimed in some quarters. He also told Ms Gandhi that he had cancelled the occupation certificate given for the project, pending a final decision in the matter from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The Chief Minister also said that he had welcomed the inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the controversy and that the truth should be established and responsibility fixed for any wrongdoing.
"I also offered to tender my resignation and I have left it to her to to take a final view," Mr Chavan added.
The Chief Minister flew into the capital this morning amidst reports that Ms Gandhi was extremely upset about the controversy, especially about the fact that three of his relatives had been allotted flats.
Defence Minister A K Antony, who is in charge of the Congress affairs in Maharashtra, and Mr Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to the Congress President, were also present at the meeting.
Before driving to Ms Gandhi's residence, Mr Chavan and his wife Amita had met Mr Patel for some.
Ms Gandhi held consultations, meanwhile, with Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, apart from Mr Patel and Mr Anthony this morning before her meeting with the Chief Minister.
Shortly after the meeting between Ms Gandhi and Mr Chavan, Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters that the party president had constituted a two-member committee, consisting of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Mr Antony, to go into the entire matter.
He said the two senior leaders had been asked to submit a report on the whole issue. "Any further step will be taken after their report," he added, without indicating the time frame that had been given to them.
The decision was seen as a move by the Congress to buy a little time for itself so that it could choose a successor to Mr Chavan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to return home tonight after a week-long trip to Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam and he will also have a say in these decisions.
If the Congress finally decides to let Mr Chavan go, a new Chief Minister will have to be in office well before United States President Barack Obama lands in Mumbai on November 6 on the first leg of his four-day visit to India.
Further, the Congress would also like to deny the Opposition the moral high ground on this issue when the winter session of Parliament begins on November 9.
Mr Chavan, 51, son of the late Union Home Minister and Maharashtra Chief Minister S B Chavan, had held a press conference yesterday in Mumbai at which he had claimed that he had not been involved in anyway with the project, a 31-storeyed building in the posh Colaba area of the metropolis.
He said the land on which the building had come up belonged to the Maharashtra Government and that the project was not specifically intended for Kargil war heroes and their families. He said at least three applicants who had been connected with the war had been allotted flats in the building.
The allegation is that the project was originally meant to be a six-storeyed structure to house Kargil war heroes and widows of those killed in the war but was alter converted into a 31-storeyed building in violation of environmental laws.
There have also been allegations that the land belonged to the defence ministry. The Government has already launched an inquiry to find out how several politicians, bureaucrats, former service chiefs and other top defence officials were allotted flats in the building and how they raised money to pay for them.
Mr Chavan also found it difficult to shake off the allegations that his relatives had been among the beneficiaries. Among the allottees was his mother-in-law, Bhagwati Manoharlal Sharma, who has since died without leaving a nominee, which meant that the allotment to her had been cancelled. Two other distant relatives of the Chief Minister, Madanlal Sharma and Seema Sharma, also figured in the list of allottees, but Mr Chavan said he had had no role in getting them membership in the society.
In any case, the two had submitted their resignations from the society in view of the controversy and requested for a refund of the money paid by them for the flat.
Meanwhile, two former Army chiefs, Gen Deepak Kapoor and Gen N C Vij, and former Navy chief Madhavendra Singh, who had been allotted flats in the project, have offered to return them in view of the controversy.
"For the past few days, we have been following with utter dismay the controversy that has arisen over the allotment of flats in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society. At no stage were we aware that these flats were meant for Kargil war widows as claimed by some sections of the media. If this be so we have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in returning these flats allotted to us by the authorities concerned," they said in a statement read out to the media on their behalf here yesterday by Adm Madhavendra Singh.
"Having spent a lifetime in the armed forces in the service of the nation and in looking after the welfare of our troops, it was never our intention to deprive anyone of their due," the statement said.