"Collusion with Ajit Pawar to get Vidarbha land for his NGO"

Training its guns on the Bharatiya Janata Party, India Against Corruption (IAC) on Wednesday alleged that the party president Nitin Gadkari took undue favours from the Maharashtra government in allotment of land acquired from Vidarbha farmers for a “public purpose.” For their generations-old land the farmers were compensated with a paltry sum of Rs. 5,000 per acre in 1981-82.

Addressing a press conference here, IAC member Arvind Kejriwal alleged that Mr. Gadkari had “colluded” with the former State Irrigation Minister and Nationalist Congress Party leader, Ajit Pawar, to get the land allotted to his NGO in violation of government rules and in an area where the agrarian crisis was at its height and the incidence of suicide among farmers was the highest.

The BJP, however, denied the charge saying the land was given by the Maharashtra government which could have refused to make the allotment.

Alleging a “quid pro quo” between political parties, Mr. Kejriwal asked whether the BJP was an Opposition party or was it colluding with the Congress at the Centre and in the States. He alleged that Mr. Gadkari had expressed his inability to RTI activist Anjali Damania in raising the issue of irrigation scam in Maharashtra as, he said, “the ruling party and the opposition do favours to one another.”

The activist, who had raised the issue of alleged nexus among DLF, Robert Vadra and the Haryana government, said such was the camaraderie that politicians like (NDA convener) Sharad Yadav and NCP chief Sharad Pawar came to Mr. Vadra’s defence.

Questioning whether the business interests of Mr. Gadkari, who owns sugar mills and power plants, clashed with the interests of farmers in Maharashtra, Mr. Kejriwal asked why the BJP was silent on the charges against Law Minister Salman Khurshid’s Trust.

The IAC charged that the Lower Vena Vadgaon dam was built on agriculture land for which an additional 100 acres had been acquired. But while the growers were denied buy-back or lease of the excess land — having already lost their livelihood — the land was leased out to Mr. Gadkari’s NGO in two phases in 2005. In the bargain, the farmers did not even get water, which was diverted to commercial firms that came up in the vicinity. The allotment of land by the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation to Mr. Gadkari’s Wardha-based organisation (Purti Sinchan Kalyankari Sanstha) was “illegal,” Mr. Kejriwal alleged, citing a government order that stated that “Irrigation Development Corporations should not lease or rent any additional land that has been with them for a prolonged period of time to private organisations.”

The social activist, however, stopped short of seeking an inquiry into the land allotment matter, saying “it will not be done when all probing agencies are under the government.” Instead, he extolled the media and the people to take forward the battle against corruption. “We cannot do everything. People must rise,” he said.

The political import of Mr. Kejriwal’s appeal was not lost but lawyer Prashant Bhushan was forthright. “We were forced to jump into the political arena because these parties will never bring [in] the Jan Lokpal Bill. That is why we appeal to the people to bring in clean politics which does not involve money power.”

Appeal to partymen

Alleging that Mr. Gadkari was using the BJP to further his business interests, Mr. Bhushan appealed to “honest” party workers to create pressure within their parties against corrupt practices.

The issue of scandal in Maharashtra power and irrigation projects had been doing the rounds, as were rumours about the rise in Mr. Vadra’s fortunes from real estate, but the IAC managed to bring it into sharp focus. For some people who felt that Mr. Kejriwal’s round 3 of ‘expose’ was not as explosive as were the earlier ones, a volunteer said, “Everybody has a different sense of outrage. Obviously such people do not understand rural India and its crisis in land, water and forests.” Greenpeace has come out with a publication Endangered Waters on the power and irrigation scam in Maharashtra.

The much-hyped press conference, however, seemed to get out of hand when someone raised the issue of RTI activist Anjali Damania seeking to save her piece of land outside Mumbai by asking authorities to shift it beyond the dam line into an adjoining tribal area.

It was this attempt by the authorities that provoked her into seeking facts on the dam which opened a can of worms. The dam, it seems, is illegal and is being constructed without any clearance.