SC castigates Ms. Beniwal
Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal is caught in yet another storm with allegations of corruption in, what BJP member Kirit Somaiya refers to as, a “1,000-crore land scam “
In overruling the decision of the registrars of the Rajasthan cooperatives department that land of cooperative society could not be allotted to individual members, the Kisan Samuhik Krishi Sahkari Samiti allotted developed land to 18 of its members including Beniwal. One of the registrars has, according to Somaiya, put a note on file that he was subjected to political pressure.
The logic put forward by the Jaipur Development Authority and Government of Rajasthan is that members of the Samiti have worked as farm labourers doing 16 hours of work per day since 1953. How Beniwal and other ministers and MLAs meet these criteria is BJP’s primary complaint.
What happens in relation to this alleged scam remains to be seen. However, this is not the first time Beniwal has been mired in corruption allegations. Her alleged involvement in a “books scam” and another “land scam” precede her nomination as the governor of Gujarat. It is rather preposterous how, despite such serious allegations, the UPA could nominate her to a post of such constitutional significance.
In September 2011, Punjab Kesri reported that as Revenue Minister in the Rajasthan Government, Beniwal had ordered the purchase of unneeded books from a firm called Bafna Book Depot. This firm, Bafna Book Depot, as a BJP MLA Nathusinh Gurjar told the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly, was blacklisted and inquiries were pending in the anti-corruption department.
Moreover, the books were bought at the exhorbitant cost of Rs. 20 per book. Upon learning of the decision, a representation was made by the staff of the revenue department to Beniwal that: (a) the books sought to be purchased were already available with the staff; (b) the money could be spent for buying chairs and tables for them; and (c) the books were available in the market for as less as Rs. 2.
Despite this, bureaucrats gave all district collectors orders to purchase the books at the inflated value of Rs. 20 per book citing “pressures from above”, as Punjab Kesri reports. The then Chief Minister Haridev Joshi assured an inquiry into these allegations which never took place.
In addition to these two instances, Beniwal has been at the centre of another land scam and has been seriously indicted by an entity no less than the Supreme Court.
In a 1996 judgment (the SC endorsed the report by the Rajasthan Lokayukta which concluded that Beniwal and other higher-ups in the Rajasthan Government “blatantly misused their official position to favour a few influential and highly placed individuals” causing wrongful gain to them and wrongful loss to the Jaipur Development Authority and the public at large.
In addition to compensating land owners for land acquired by the Rajasthan Government in 1960, the Land Acquisition Officer indiscriminately granted plots of land not just to the owners, but even sub-awardees/nominees. The SC, in an earlier petition, held that the Officer had no authority to allot land in such a manner and, therefore, the decision was invalid, void and inexecutable.
Thereafter, as Rajasthan’s Urban Development Minister as well as Jaipur Development Authority’s Chairman, Beniwal granted allotment of lands to sub-awardees/nominees under an ambiguous public policy.
Some statements by the SC reveal the sheer brazenness of this exercise:
“[The facts] demonstrate the danger involved in entrusting unbridled dual powers [as Urban Development Minister and JDA Chairman] in a single individual leading to abuse of office on account of lack of counter check”
“It would be a mockery to call it a policy of the Government much less a public policy.”
“In some instances, a person whose land of 500 square yards was acquired, was compensated with allotment of 2,000 square yards and above”
The following quote is the most damning:
“[The policy] appears to be a devise to get illegal gratification or distribution of public property defeating the public purpose of misuse of public office.”
“Moreover, the allotment was benefitted only a specified class and none else.”
Despite the fact that action was initiated after the Lokayukta castigated Beniwal and others for such blatant abuse, this action did not even reach Beniwal’s periphery. This, as the SC then described, “shocks the judicial conscience” and is, as it said in 2011, what happens to “hundreds of similar reports” submitted by Lokayukta.
No action can be initiated against Beniwal today because, under Article 361 of the Constitution, no criminal proceeding can be initiated against a state governor.
Since the governor holds office “during the pleasure of the President” under Article 156, the President can exercise her power to remove the Governor from office, although only in rare and exceptional circumstances and for valid and compelling reasons which depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.
Notably, however, the President acts on the aid and advice of her Council of Ministers which, in this case, is the Congress-led UPA government. Given that Beniwal has been a part of Congress-led governments in Rajasthan, not only is the UPA unlikely to initiate action, it will not be surprising if they started defending Beniwal.
Without condoning a three-year delay on the part of the Gujarat Government to initiate the process for filling up the vacancy in Gujarat Lokayukta, the fact that Beniwal claims to uphold the sanctity of the institution of Lokayukta by ignoring the Gujarat Government and unilaterally appointing a Lokayukta is rather ironic.