India: Maharashtra probes Wadhawan picnic fracas, CBI enters scene

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CBI Headquarters. (File Photo: IANS)

Satara/Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Friday ordered a probe against a senior IPS officer who allegedly permitted the scam-tainted Wadhawan brothers and others to travel from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar flouting state and national lockdown norms, state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said.

In a double whammy, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) rushed to enter the scene by shooting off an email to the Satara Superintendent of Police not to release the scam-tainted Wadhawan brothers – who were absconding since a month – without its prior permission.

Raising eyebrows, a day after getting permission to travel from Pune district to Satara district, on Thursday, DHFL’s RBI-appointed Administrator R. Subramaniakumar announced a contribution of one-day’s salary by all employees to PM-CARES Fund, but the amount was not specified.

The officer on the radar is Principal Secretary (Special) in the Home Department, Amitabh Gupta (IPS), who was shunted on ‘compulsory leave’ early today after the controversy erupted late on Thursday night.

Simultaneously, the Mahabaleshwar Police swung into action early today and booked 23 persons of the Wadhawan family and others for violating various laws including the Indian Penal Code, Disaster Management Act, Epidemic Diseases Act, etc, said Deshmukh.

The probe will be conducted and completed within 15 days by Addl Chief Secretary Manoj Saunik, the minister added.

Gupta’s permission – in the form of a ‘To Whomsoever It May Concern’ letter – was issued on his personal letterhead on April 8 (Wednesday), permitting the Wadhawans and others to cross from Khandala (Pune) to Mahabaleshwar (Satara).

“They were found here on Thursday evening and said they had come from Mumbai, travelling from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar. We have lodged a FIR against them under various laws pertaining to flouting lockdown under the pandemic,” an official from Mahabaleshwar Police Station told IANS.

According to local reports, several natives from Mahabaleshwar were surprised to see a convoy of vehicles suddenly zooming in and shattering the calm of the hill station on Thursday afternoon.

While some protested, others complained to the police, expressing apprehensions about the medical condition of the visitors who had come there at the height of the pandemic lockdown.

The matter sparked off a storm late on Thursday with the Bharatiya Janata Party Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis and state Vice-President Kirit Somaiya demanding a probe and Deshmukh’s scalp.

Hitting out at the BJP, Deshmukh and Minority Affairs Minister Nawab Malik said that since IAS and IPS officers come under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Officer, any powers to suspend them are vested only with the PMO.

“Since your party (BJP) is in power at the Centre, you should demand his suspension from the PMO,” both ministers said.

Gupta’s helpful letter said: “This is to just inform you that following are well known to me as they are my family friends and travelling from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar for family emergency. Hence you are hereby informed through this letter to co-operate with them to reach their destination.”

It listed the registration numbers of all the five vehicles and the names of all the family members, friends, and others who were planning to travel in each of the vehicles for the unspecified ‘family emergency’.

For the agency, the action in Satara has proved to be fortunate as it managed to trace the absconders – Kapil Wadhawan and Dheeraj – who are presently lodged in a government quarantine centre in the adjoining twin-hill station of Panchgani.

The CBI said that the Wadhawan brothers were absconding since beginning of the investigation in the alleged Yes Bank scam probe, but have now been found sitting in a government isolation centre.

Last month, the CBI had raided the Wadhawans’ premises, but both were missing and later the CBI served notices to them, but they did not respond.

Following their-non compliance, the Mumbai Special CBI Court on March 17 issued a non-bailable warrant against both of them, but they continued to evade the law.

Besides CBI, the Wadhawans are also accused by the Enforcement Directorate, which had summoned them, searched their premises in Mumbai and Mahabaleshwar, but they could not be traced.

After the arrest of Yes Bank founder Rana Kapoor on March 8 by the ED, the Wadhawans went into hiding, but the coronavirus has helped the investigating agencies trace and pin them down.

The Wadhawans have been linked as accused in the Punjab & Maharashtra Cooperative Bank and Yes Bank scams along with the entities, DHFL-HDIL.