The NCP leader is out on bail for corruption cases, one of which pertains to alleged irregularities in the contract for the Sadan.
New Delhi: The new Maharashtra Sadan in the heart of Delhi is magnificently posh. Just as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal had dreamt it would be.
Earlier this week, Bhujbal made his first entry into the building he had commissioned several years ago as the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra.
The NCP leader is currently out on bail after two years in prison in connection with money-laundering cases amounting to Rs 870 crore, including one pertaining to alleged kickbacks for the Maharashtra Sadan contract.
Clad in a white kurta-pyjama with a maroon muffler around his neck, his eyes welled up as he stepped into the building.
Everything looked familiar, which was odd, because he had never been here before. Perhaps it was because of the plans of the building, which he had pored over closely, that he knew where everything was located.
But everything had changed, too. Bhujbal himself is now much older. His dyed black hair is completely white – prison does that, it hardly allows you access to hair colour. He has lost a lot of weight. The man seems shrunken.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) may have marked him, but Bhujbal, on his day out at the Sadan, was not having any of it.
“The building is now a popular meeting point of RSS and BJP leaders. Central government officials and ministers are regular visitors to this place,” Bhujbal told ThePrint. “I am happy to know this,” he added.
Perhaps he was aware of the irony of his statement, perhaps not.
It all started in 2014, when the public accounts committee of the state legislature filed a report alleging irregularities in some projects of the PWD department while it was under Bhujbal.
This included the construction of the Maharashtra Sadan – against a budget outline of Rs 50 crore, the project ended up costing thrice as much, Rs 152 crore.
In 2015, an inquiry was initiated amid allegations that kickbacks were paid to the Mumbai Education trust, an institute owned by Bhujbals, in exchange for the contract.
In 2016, the Maharashtra anti-corruption bureau (ACB) chargesheeted 17 people, including the Bhujbals. The ED, probing the case as part of a special investigation team with the ACB, arrested Bhujbal for alleged money laundering in the case, claiming the contractor had earned an 80 per cent profit while rules entitled them to only aim for 20 per cent.
The chargesheet stated that Chamankar Associates, the firm that bagged the contract, had transferred money to other companies in the name of people who worked for the Bhujbals, and that these companies were used to siphon off the money.
‘We never emptied the treasury’
When Bhujbal arrived at Maharashtra Sadan, his joy at seeing the marvel he had planned and helped create knew no bounds.
He wanted to see every room of the building — the conference hall, dining hall, lobby, meeting room and the auditorium. He walked around the place, inspecting every nook and cranny.
Known as the Sirmur Plot, the Sadan has sprawling lawns on each side. Statues of Maharashtra icons like Shivaji, Baba Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule are placed at key locations.
The architecture is really a melange, mostly faux Peshwa, with the architect imagining what Pune’s historical Shaniwar Wada must have once looked like.
Bollywood could have easily done it better.
Defending himself against the allegations of corruption, he said, “We never emptied the treasury. The person who got the contract only got it after it was cleared by the Cabinet. But when the BJP came to power, it had to do something, so it slapped false cases against me and put me behind bars,” he said.
“Still, I am happy that the BJP, which could not make anything like this, is now appreciating the infrastructure,” he added.
“We had planned a bakery and a Bisleri plant. The BJP has not spent a single penny to even buy a shrub,” he added.
A man for all parties
Bhujbal was not an NCP strongman when he started his political career. An OBC leader, he started his career in 1960 with the Shiv Sena.
He left it to join the Congress in 1997; when NCP chief Sharad Pawar decided to split from the party, Bhujbal went with him. A confidant of Pawar, he later became deputy chief minister of the state. Bhujbal is still considered close to Pawar.
Explaining why the Sadan was constructed, Bhujbal said, “I was told that the old Sadan was a shabby place and that we should have a place that we can be proud of and that is why I ensured that it will have the best of designs.”
“When the President came to inaugurate it, he praised it. He called it the second best building in the Capital after the President’s House,” he added.