Business tycoons Kapil Wadhawan and Dheeraj Wadhawan were on Thursday caught violating the coronavirus lockdown in Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, NDTV reported. A police official said the force was alerted by local residents, who saw people at the Wadhawans’ farmhouse. The two brothers had lookout notices against them issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Yes Bank and DHFL fraud cases.
The police found 23 people at the farmhouse, including members of the Wadhawan family. The individuals were subsequently removed from the farmhouse and taken to a government quarantine facility at Panchgani, said Satara Superintendent of Police Tejasvini Satpute.
The CBI has now asked the Satara district magistrate and superintendent of police to not release the two brothers without a no-objection certificate from the agency or a court order, The Indian Express reported. The agency said the authorities should take necessary steps to prevent the accused from absconding.
Maharashtra Home Department Principal Secretary Amitabh Gupta had issued a special pass to the Wadhawans to travel from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar for a “family emergency”, reports said. The Wadhawans are reportedly Gupta’s family friends.
Despite the 21-day national lockdown to combat coronavirus, 23 people in five cars managed to travel from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar on Wednesday. Their cooks and servants also travelled with them. Among the 23 people was a bodyguard from Italy, which is one of the worst-affected countries in the world.
Maharashtra’s Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that Additional Chief Secretary Manoj Saunik will look into Gupta’s involvement in giving approval for travel to the Wadhawans during lockdown. The minister added that they will be booked under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, sections of the Disaster Management Act, and COVID-19 regulations.
Last month, the Wadhawans had skipped a summons by the Enforcement Directorate for the third time in the money laundering investigation against Yes Bank founder Rana Kapoor and others, citing the Covid-19 pandemic. The brothers claimed that their health was more important than the summons.
The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party lashed out at the Shiv Sena-Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government in Maharashtra following Thursday’s incident.
“No lockdowns for mighty and rich in Maharashtra?” tweeted former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. “One can spend holidays in Mahabaleshwar with official permission from police. It is not possible that a senior IPS officer would do such gross mistake knowing the consequences on his own. With whose order or blessings was this done? Mr CM [chief minister] and HM [home minister] you owe us an explanation.”
BJP leader Kirit Somaiya wrote to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Thursday, The Hindu reported. “The Wadhawan brothers are out on bail and being given VIP treatment,” he said. “Home Minister Anil Deshmukh owes an explanation.”
Deshmukh ordered an investigation into the incident later on Thursday, In a tweet, Deshmukh said: “Will probe how the 23 members of the Wadhawan family got permission to travel from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar.” Early on Friday, Deshmukh said Amitabh Gupta has been sent on compulsory leave.
The 21-day lockdown, which began on March 25, prohibits the movement of people for anything other than procuring essential goods or providing essential services. The coronavirus has so far infected 5,865 people in India and killed 169, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Maharashtra on Thursday reported 25 new deaths related to Covid-19 – the biggest spike so far. The toll in the state has now reached 97.