Bombay HC reserves order on PIL seeking probe against former Maha CM Uddhav Thackeray
The petition, filed by city resident and behaviour and soft skill consultant Gauri Bhide, asked the CBI and ED to conduct a 'thorough and impartial' probe against Thackeray and his family.
The Mumbai Police informed the Bombay High Court that they had launched a preliminary investigation into former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and his family following a complaint about alleged disproportionate assets.
Public Prosecutor Aruna Kamat Pai informed the High Court after a division bench of Justices Dheeraj Thakur and Valmiki Menezes reserved its decision on public interest litigation seeking an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the Thackerays for allegedly amassing wealth disproportionate to known sources of income.
The Thackerays sought dismissal of the PIL as it was based on assumptions rather than facts. The petition, filed by city resident and behaviour and soft skill consultant Gauri Bhide, asked the CBI and ED to conduct a 'thorough and impartial' probe against Thackeray and his family.
In the morning session, the bench heard the matter briefly before closing it for orders. However, in the afternoon, Pai again brought up the matter to inform the court of the state government's position. The Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Mumbai Police has opened a preliminary investigation into the allegations, Pai informed the court.
Uddhav Thackeray's counsel, Aspi Chinoy, objected, calling it an 'abuse of the legal process.'
Bhide had written to the Mumbai police commissioner about her allegations before filing the petition. However, Bhide told the court on Thursday that she had not been informed of any such police investigation.
"I request that the central agencies be directed to conduct an investigation," Bhide told the court.
Senior counsels Chinoy and Ashok Mundargi argued for Uddhav Thackeray, his wife Rashmi Thackeray, and his son Aaditya Thackeray that the PIL was based on assumptions and lacked factual support.
Chinoy objected, saying, "The petition is entirely devoid of content and based solely on assumptions. The petitioner may also file a private complaint with a magistrate's court seeking a police investigation."
Additionally, he said that Uddhav Thackeray is no longer in power, so it cannot be claimed that he or his family would influence any investigation.
Mundargi argued that Bhide should have first filed the police or private complaint. "The high court's jurisdiction comes only when all other remedies have been exhausted, and no relief has been granted," Mundargi said, adding that the PIL is based on assumptions rather than facts.
Bhide, whose family owned a printing press in Mumbai's Dadar area, said in her PIL that she wanted to assist the Government of India in 'unearthing some more hidden, unaccounted wealth disproportionate to income and also unearthing laundered money.'
According to the plea, Bhide was inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's fight against corruption, and she has evidence that the Thackeray family illegally accumulated properties and assets.
It was also claimed that Uddhav Thackeray and his family never revealed any specific service, profession, or business as their official source of income. "Yet, we discover they have enormous properties in a metropolis like Mumbai and in Raigad district, which may run into crores," as per the plea.
It also mentioned CBI and ED raids on people who are 'very very close' to the Thackeray family, claiming that it is crystal clear that the huge undisclosed properties, cash, and other wealth with those people have a close nexus to the Thackerays.
The petition also claimed that during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, when the entire print media suffered heavy losses, Thackeray's company Prabodhan Prakashan Pvt Ltd showed a brilliant performance of Rs 42 crore turnover and Rs 11.5 crore profit.
During that time, Uddhav Thackeray was the chief minister, and his son Aaditya Thackeray was a cabinet minister, the plea mentioned. "It appears to be a clear case of turning black money into white money," the PIL claimed.
After a revolt within his own party, Uddhav Thackeray's Maha Vikas Aghadi government collapsed in June of this year.
(With inputs from PTI)