Maharashtra opposition to feast on controversies during session

By Quaid Najmi, IANS,

Nagpur : A feast of controversies awaits the Maharashtra opposition to put the ruling Congress-NCP coalition government on the mat during the fortnight-long winter session of the legislature starting here Monday.

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Days before the session, the opposition Shiv Sena-BJP-MNS combine has already made clear its aggressive attitude on several issues, the prime being the alleged Rs.20,000-crore scam in the state irrigation department.

The opposition swords have been further sharpened with the reinduction of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) strongman Ajit Pawar as deputy chief minister 10 weeks after he quit the cabinet and just three days before the session.

The opposition will also question the ‘White Paper’ on the irrigation department and the ‘clean chit’ to Pawar which enabled his return to the ministry.

Leaders of Opposition Eknath Khadse in the assembly and Vinod Tawde in the council, both from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have termed the report as a ‘black paper’ and demanded that Special Investigation Team should probe the irrigation department, headed by Ajit Pawar for 10 years.

Until the probe is ordered, they have threatened to disrupt the house proceedings.

Besides Pawar, NCP leader and Tourism and PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal too will be targeted for his alleged involvement in irregularities in the construction of new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi.

Another target could be former minister of state Gulabrao Deokar who was embroiled in the 15-year-old Jalgaon housing scam in which also figures the name of former minister and Shiv Sena legislator Sureshdada Jain.

This time, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya has hurled allegations against assembly Speaker Dilip Walse-Patil, also of the NCP, for his role in the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Ltd. The NCP shot back by denying the allegations and threatening proceedings for breach of privilege against Somaiya.

There is also Congress leader and state Education Minister Rajendra Darda whose name has cropped up in alleged irregularities in coal block allocations.

He could be targeted during the brief session, scheduled to end Dec 21.

Hoping to cool the rising temperatures, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has invited the opposition leaders to his customary eve-of-the-session tea party, which the latter boycotted Sunday.

Another headache for the NCP could be the law and order situation in the state, with particular reference to the Aug 11 violence at Azad Maidan which left two dead and several injured, besides firing on sugarcane farmers and recent attacks on women across the state.

The issue of the arrest of two girls from Palghar in Thane over a Facebook comment after the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray will also be raised during the session.

However, opposition efforts to sponsor a no-confidence move against the government have not yet fructified due to differences within its ranks on the issue.

On the other hand, the government is planning to showcase its achievements, which includes the hanging of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in Pune Nov 21.

The government will also tom-tom about its success in securing 12.50 acres in Dadar for a memorial to Bhimrao Ambedkar, who wrote the Indian Constitution.

Certain other initiatives of the state government will also be exploited to strengthen its side. These include being the first to commit the implementation of foreign investment in multi-brand retail, decisions on the crucial housing sector, clearance granted to Mumbai Trans Harbour Link across the Arabian Sea and fast-tracking of mega-infrastructure projects.

However, on Monday the beginning of the session will be peaceful with obituary references to former members of the house, including two-time former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, former speaker Babasaheb Kuppekar and former Congress legislator Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, the chief promoter of the scam-tainted Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society.

Like parliament, the assembly will also pass a special condolence motion for Bal Thackeray, who never held any public or elective office, but strode over the state’s political scene like a colossus for over four decades.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])