The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the Maharashtra government, Bollywood filmmaker Subhash Ghai, PIL petitioner Rajendra Lakshman Sontakke and others on a plea by union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh challenging the “extremely grave strictures” passed against him by the Bombay High Court in a land allocation case when he was chief minister of Maharashtra.
Union cabinet Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had moved the Supreme Court challenging the “extremely grave strictures” passed against him by the Bombay high court while quashing the allotment of land to a joint venture company Whistling Woods International between Subhash Ghai’s production house Mukta Arts Ltd. and the Maharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation for setting up a state-of-the-art film institute and research centre.
The high court by its February 9, 2012 verdict had also quashed the joint venture agreement between the Maharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation and Mukta Arts for setting up Film Training and Research Institute-cum-Studio Complex on a 20 acre plot at Film city in Goregaon, Mumbai.
An apex court bench of Justice H Dattu and Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasadwhile issuing the notice wondered if it was not strange that a Chief Minister was signatory to a joint venture agreement between the State government corporation and the privatecompany.
“Mr. Venugopal don’t you think it strange. We have not come across a joint venture agreementin which the chief minister puts his signature,” Justice Dattu asked the senior counsel KK Venugopal who appeared for Vilasrao Deshmukh.
“The message is that the joint venture has the blessings of the highest functionary of the state, the Chief Minister and any loopholes in the agreement had to be ignored,” the court observed.
The court said this when it was told that Vilasrao Deshmukh affixed his signature to the JV agreement on the spur of the moment as he was requested to bless the project at the agreement-signing function.
The court further observed that blessings are given by hands and not by putting one’s signature on the JV agreement.
Describing the conduct of Deshmukh as “unusual”, the high court had said that he had “extended undue favours.” The high court had held that the Managing Director ofMaharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation was emboldened by the “fact that their action had the blessings of the highest functionary of the executive arm of the state, namely the Chief Minister.”
The High Court had described the role of the then Maharashtra chief minister Deshmukh as “depreciable.”
Reading the adverse observation of the high court, Venugopal said: “If I knew that the transaction was tainted, wrong or illegal, do you think I would have signed such an agreement and exposed myself.”
“Do you think that I am foolish and had put my head in the lion’s mouth by being presentat the agreement-signing ceremony and blessing it,” Venugopal told the court pointing to Deshmukh’s innocence.
Appearing for the respondent PIL petitioner before the high court, senior counsel Ram Jethamalani told the court that favours by the Chief Minister or those in power are done in subtle ways, where things are not said in black and white.
“We are living in an era of scams. Everyday, a scam surfaces. These are subtle ways of doing things,” Jethamalani told the court, asking it to direct Deshmukh to go to the high court to agitate his grievance.
The senior counsel said that according to the CAG, the cost of the land was worth Rs30 crore and according to the PIL petition in the high court, more than Rs100 crore was given to the JV just for Rs3 crore.
The court has asked for a response in four weeks, after which Deshmukh has been given two weeks to file his reply.