With over a dozen Ministers from the State Cabinet battling charges of corruption, the list of Ministers targeted by the Opposition had a new addition on Wednesday in the form of Shiv Sena MLA and Minister of State Arjun Khotkar.
Aam Adami Party (AAP) leader Preeti Sharma-Menon alleged that the Minister, who has had a monopoly over the administration of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) of Jalna district for the last nine years, is implicated in corruption involving over Rs. 500 crore.
The AAP leader said the list of owners of over 1, 500 gala s or shops at APMC, gathered from an RTI query, revealed that around 40 family members and close friends of the Minister own over 250 gala s between them.
While the APMC shops are meant to be reserved for farm produce, these shops sell things ranging from electronics to automobiles. According to the AAP sting, the 1500 gala s were sold illegally to third parties at an average price of Rs. 40 lakh. The APMC Market in Purana Monda, Jalna, which is called Arjun Khotkar Business Centre (AKBC), boasts of a string of ready-made textile showrooms. “Floors and floors of ready-made textile showrooms are owned by his childhood friend Vinod Bajaj and close friends the Nathani family. His maternal uncle Tularam Bhagirath Wadekar runs automobile showrooms in the APMC market,” said Ms. Menon.
“In APMC Jalna, almost all gala owners rent out their space to third parties. This is a major violation, but is openly mentioned in official gala list. Furthermore, gala owners re-sell the gala s and profit from the sales in cahoots with Arjun Khotkar,” she said.
A Shiv Sena heavyweight from Marathwada’s trading hub, Jalna district, Mr. Khotkar was recently inducted in the cabinet as MoS before the monsoon session of the state legislature. Prior to it, he was in the news for openly criticising the BJP-led government’s decision to ban the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, on the grounds that it would have an adverse impact on farmers.
“Mr. Khotkar, along with his brother and cronies, has not only been involved in financial scam worth Rs 500 crore at the most modest estimates, but also has violated every single law and norm mentioned in the APMC act,” alleged Ms Menon, who also released a sting operation in which the merchants accused the minister of using arm twisting tactics and selling shops at APMC by violating all laws at humungous prices.
The successive audit reports have slammed the APMC for its financial indiscipline, questioning the role of contractors who own shops at the APMC.