While hearing a batch of PILs which ended up exposing the Rs.6,000 crore tribal scam, the Bombay High Court observed-
"If the State has accepted the Justice Gaikwad Committee's Report and initiated action, it is bound to take it to its logical end. We hope that none would be protected and shielded even if close to the political dispensation, presently in power in the State or the Centre. "
Division bench of Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice RI Chagla were hearing the said PILs which were originally filed highlighting the issue of non-implementation of welfare schemes for tribal people launched by the State and Centre, and subsequent "siphoning off and misappropriation" of funds by state officials.
In an order dated June 13, 2013, the then bench of Justices VM Kanade and RP Sondurbaldota remarked that in all such welfare schemes it is seen that even if the money is disbursed, it does not reach the people it is earmarked for.
In light of the directions in the said order which was very detailed, State government ordered an enquiry to be headed by Justice (retired) MK Gaikwad. The report was tabled in January 2017 and the tribal affairs minister in the previous Congress-NCP government Vijay Kumar Gavit was held accountable on certain counts. Interestingly, Gavti is currently an MLA with the BJP.
Current Status of Investigation
Appearing for one of the petitioners in the case, Advocate RB Suryawanshi submitted usually a report from a commission of enquiry is enough for taking further action, civil and criminal. However, in this case a retired IAS officer PD Karandikar was appointed by the State to study the report of Justice (retd) Gaikwad and to suggest remedial measures and actions.
This is an extra-ordinary decision and is not at all supportable given the pendency of this PIL, the observations, findings and conclusions in the Justice (Retd.) MG Gaikwad Committee Report, Suryawanshi argued.
He alleged that delaying tactics were adopted to shield and protect the officers close to the political parties in power at the relevant time.
Senior Advocate Dr.Milind Sathe was appointed a Special Counsel by the State. He pointed to the previous affidavit filed by the State and said there were three categories Type A, B and C. While against those individuals named under A and B, departmental inquiry and action is indicated and the Type C cases is awhere further investigation is ordered.
In light of the above submissions, Court demanded to know as to what stage is the investigation pending against such persons and why the 123 employees have not been placed under suspension. The bench noted-
"We would like an affidavit to be filed by none other than the Secretary in the Department of Tribal Development. His affidavit should be a complete compliance report. If the State has accepted the Justice Gaikwad Committee's Report and initiated action, it is bound to take it to its logical end.
Ultimately public funds are entrusted to public officials and public servants. If one takes any statute and particularly the penal statutes, they come within the purview of the definition of the term "public servant". To our mind, therefore, all the penal laws including The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 would have to be invoked.
Similarly, discipline and control rules would have to be invoked and applied and if already invoked and applied, bearing in mind the magnitude of the fraud, as alleged, one cannot allow such servants to report for duty for they have every opportunity to tamper with the evidence or influence the witnesses. Hence, an action in the nature of suspension is also warranted."
Finally, lamenting at the delays and lack of any concrete action in the matter despite substantial time having passed since the report (2.5 years), Court asked the Secretary of the Department of Tribal Development to file a detailed affidavit and observed-
"It is only the Secretary in the Department whom we trust for we do not think that others will realise the seriousness of the High Court entertaining a PIL, issuing directions and setting up Committees of Inquiry."
January 8, 2020 is the next date of hearing.