NAGPUR, Maharashtra — A social worker from Nagpur, Mohnish Jabalpure, has filed a complaint before the Enforcement Directorate and a petition before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, accusing Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of “misusing his position” by pushing the state’s 2 lakh strong police force to shift their salary accounts from nationalised banks to Axis Bank.
Fadnavis’s wife Amruta is a vice president at Axis Bank.
HuffPost India spoke to 17 policemen who confirmed that their superior officers directed them to shift their accounts to Axis Bank, a private bank, citing informal “orders from above.”
Jabalpure’s petition includes a May 11, 2017 circular, issued by the then Additional Director General of Police (Administration) Pradnya Sarvade, to buttress his allegation that the police unduly favoured Axis Bank.
The circular, which is in Marathi, states that the Maharashtra police had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Axis Bank which offered a set of benefits for those opting to shift their salary accounts to the bank.
The circular concluded by asking police section heads to either negotiate similar deals with the banks where they had existing accounts, or to move their accounts to Axis Bank or any other bank offering the same benefits.
Senior IPS officer K.Venkatesan, who was the police commissioner of Nagpur city in 2017, said the police rank and file were told about the benefits of switching to Axis Bank, but said there was no diktat for policemen to shift accounts; policemen in the state were simply given the option to avail of the supposedly superior benefits offered by Axis Bank.
“The benefits of Axis Bank were shown to all the people,” Venkatesan said. “Not all of them have changed even today. There was and is no compulsion.”
Venkatesan, who is now the police commissioner in Pune, said between 5,000 and 6,000 of the Pune jurisdiction’s 9,000-odd policemen had salary accounts in Axis bank, while the rest continued with state-owned banks like State Bank of India.
“There was no official instruction from my level. We only explained what is the benefit,” Venkatesan said. “As the boss of that police unit, it was our job to explain the benefit to our people and we keep on doing such welfare measures.”
Jabalpure’s petition, however, alleges that the police did not adopt a formal tender process to select Axis Bank.
This is not the first time Fadnavis has been accused of lending a hand to Axis Bank. In 2016, a circular issued by the state’s Slum Rehabilitation Authority, headed by Fadnavis, asked real estate developers working on slum projects to open accounts with Axis Bank. Axis Bank was selected without any formal tender process, according to a Times Of India report at the time.
Fadnavis’s office had denied any allegations of nepotism, and had threatened to sue opposition politicians who had raised the issue.
A statement issued by the Chief Minister’s Office at the time had stated that Axis Bank had handled accounts of central schools, urban development department, the charity commissioner and police department’s account even before Fadnavis took office.
“Documents and circumstantial evidence clearly indicate that Fadnavis used his ministry to make sure policemen’s salary accounts are shifted to Axis Bank which resulted in losses to nationalized banks,” Jabalpure has alleged in his complaint to the ED, a copy of which is available with HuffPost India. “He used his position to influence officials only to get promotions to his wife.”
“The government claims that the services of private banks including Axis Bank were being taken since 2005 but a large number of policemen’s bank accounts were shifted to Axis in and after 2017”
Devendra Fadnavis’s office has denied the allegations.
“Today, the state police force has issued a press release. Its a clarification on that issue. It basically says that the decision to open accounts in private and nationalized banks was taken in 2003 when Mr.Fadnavis was just an MLA. It was a Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra then. Also, another (similar) decision was taken in 2005 so (decision) to open bank accounts with Axis bank or any other bank is an old one. There is nothing new in this,” Ravikiran Deshmukh, the OSD to Mr.Fadnavis said when asked about the allegations leveled in the petition.
The case came before the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court on Thursday.
Justice PN Deshmukh deferred the case by two weeks and asked the government pleader to study the case papers in the petition.
HuffPost India also reached out to the Axis Bank regarding the allegations in the petition.
“Axis Bank has been providing Banking services to police officials in various states of India including in Maharashtra since 2003. The matter is currently sub-judice and the Bank will also make its submissions in the ongoing proceedings before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court,” an official spokesperson of Axis bank responded to an email query from HuffPost India.
Jabalpure has claimed that he moved the High Court and ED after the Fadnavis government stonewalled his efforts to find out more about the state government’s relationship with Axis Bank.
“The government claims that the services of private banks including Axis Bank were being taken since 2005 but a large number of policemen’s bank accounts were shifted to Axis in and after 2017,” Jabalpure said. “The conspiracy is clear. Nationalized banks are being damaged in order to benefit a private bank where Mrs.Fadnavis works. I have cross-checked this from more than 150 policemen.”
“Discipline is everything in our department and we can not disobey our senior’s orders. I shifted my salary account from the State Bank of India to the Axis Bank in 2017 on the order of the senior officials. Many of my colleagues did the same,” a head constable told HuffPost India. “We did not have to go to Axis Bank to do that. The Axis Bank representatives came to us and helped us open the account. We were told that we will be given many additional benefits if we shift our salary account to Axis Bank.”
Venkatesan insisted that Axis Bank offered a better deal to the police force.
“Axis Bank was giving Rs.30 lakh accidental benefit but the SBI offer was nowhere comparable to that,” he said.
In his petition, however, Jabalpure said that if the police top brass had adopted a formal tendering process, they might have won more benefits.
“If the application would have been called by other banks, there would have been more amount for the police officials,” the petition said.