Dhule (Maharasthra), Aug 31 (IANS): In a pre-poll jolt, a Dhule Special Court has sentenced 48 persons, including two former Maharashtra ministers, to varying jail terms between seven to three years and slapped fines on them in the Rs 110-crore Jalgaon Gharkul housing scam, here on Saturday.
Shiv Sena leader and former minister Suresh Jain has been given seven years in jail and a whopping Rs 100 crore fine, while Nationalist Congress Party’s former minister was awarded five years jail with Rs 500,000 fine.
Among the remaining accused, around 30 accused municipal councilors and officials were given five years jail terms with fines, and one was awarded three years in jail plus a fine.
Earlier this afternoon, Special Judge Srishty Neelkanth pronouncedAall the 48 accused in the case as “guilty” and ordered the police to take them in custody before announcing the verdict this evening.
Before delivering her much-awaited judgement, the Special Judge Neelkanth asked the lawyers of the accused whether they had anything to say.
The lawyers pleaded that their clients were not guilty, had nothing to do with the scam, many were ill or aged, and should be pardoned.
Demanding punishment for all accused, Special Public Prosecutor Pravin Chavan forcefully argued that the accused had conspired and committed the crime in a cohesive manner, passed a resolution for promoting a housing scheme when there was no suitable space available with the intention to profit from public money.
Besides Jain and Deokar, there were a total of 52 accused in the sensational case, including Pradeep Raisoni, Jagannath Vani, Raja Mayur and several municipal councilors and officials.
Three accused died during the pendency of the trial and one is still absconding, and all the 48 were present in the Special Court when Special Judge Neelkanth pronounced her verdict.
The case, which was originally being tried in Jalgaon, was transferred by the Supreme Court to Dhule to prevent influencing of witnesses and ensure fairness.
Jain was arrested in March 2012 for the scam perpetrated when he was a minister in the previous Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government (1995-1999), and was jailed for over a year before being enlarged on bail.
Former NCP minister Deokar was arrested in May 2012 and spent around three years behind bars before getting bail.
The duo, along with the other 50 accused, had favoured Khandesh Builders which was awarded a prestigious affordable housing project for slumdwellers under the Gharkul scheme worth around Rs.30 crore, in 1999.
Of the planned 11,000 homes, only 1,500 were completed and the then Municipal Commissioner of Jalgaon, Pravin Gedam lodged a police complaint in February 2006.
The Jalgaon Municipal Council had availed a loan of Rs.110 crore from the HUDCO for the housing scheme, slated to come up in various localities in the city in northern Maharashtra.
By 2001, the irregularities running into crores of rupees, unreasonable delays in the project, lack of action against the builder and contractors, and other aspects were exposed.
After the original complaint was lodged, the Jalgaon Police investigated the case for six years and it emerged that the payments made to the builder were routed to companies actually controlled by Jain, his family and associates.
The scam was also probed by different commissions of enquiry and social crusader Anna Hazare had raised the issue.