Wednesday, October 5, 2016

High court quashes graft charges against minister

In a huge relief for Gujarat's water supply minister Jasa Barad, Gujarat high court quashed corruption charges levelled against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with transportation contracts awarded in 1997-98.

Barad was the minister for food, civil supplies and consumer affairs then. The state government had assigned the contract of transporting essential commodities like sugar, wheat etc. across the state. One of the contract conditions stipulated that the transportation charges would stay constant in any eventuality.

However, there was a sudden 28% rise of in petrol and diesel prices. Following a representation by transporters the then civil supplies minister, Vitthal Shah, decided to increase transportation rates by between 18% and 28%. After some time, Barad took office as a minister. In his tenure, along with transportation charges, the contract term for transporters was also extended.

Following allegations of corruption, CBI began probing this case. Former minister Shah passed away during the inquiry, and CBI registered two FIRs in 2003 against Barad and 15 other government officials and office bearers. They were charged by the court in 2008 and 2009 in two different cases and were accused of cheating, criminal conspiracy and under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Barad moved the HC earlier this year against the CBI court's framing of charges. It was argued that the minister was neither involved in the day-to-day affairs of the department, nor had he put his signature on any order. Moreover, looking at the contingencies, certain decisions were taken in the larger public interest failing which the poor beneficiaries would have to wait long for food. There were precedents of this kind, and the ministry just followed the tradition to meet the requirement of the day, Barad's advocate argued.

The CBI vehemently objected to Barad's application and insisted that the decision caused a loss of more than Rs 2 crore to the public exchequer.

After hearing the case, Justice S G Shah quashed the charges against the minister by accepting his argument that the decision was not taken for any personal interest.

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