In a major move against those allegedly involved in the irrigation scam in the State, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Monday evening ordered State Water Resources Department secretary Devendra P. Shirke to go on forced leave.

Mr. Shirke was also the chief executive director of the Vidarbha Irrigation Department Corporation’s (VIDC).

This latest move comes days after Mr. Chavan approved of a departmental inquiry against 45 officials of the VIDC, including Mr. Shirke, after large scale irregularities were revealed in a report by a one-member committee headed by retired bureaucrat Nandkumar Vadnere.

Mr. Shirke, along with 44 other VIDC engineers, is facing a probe on several counts for violation of government norms that led to massive cost overruns in irrigation projects in the State.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had earlier demanded that all the 45 officials be immediately sacked.

The scam has already led to the resignation of former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, following allegations of irregularities against him in granting project approvals worth Rs. 20,000-crore during an eight-month period. The former Minister was accused of clearing projects without the mandatory clearance from the VIDC governing council during his stint as State Water Resources Minister between 1999 and 2009.

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