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Maharashtra irrigation scam: Fadnavis gives nod for probe against Ajit Pawar, other NCP leaders

In this November 30, 2014 photo, NCP leader Ajit Pawar meets Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai.   | Photo Credit: PTI

In a major blow to the Nationalist Congress Party in particular and its erstwhile alliance partner the Congress in general, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is believed to have given a green signal to the State Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to probe the role of former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and senior NCP leader Sunil Tatkare in the multi-crore irrigation scam.

The Congress-NCP together ruled the State for 10 years. The irrigation scam was a major sore point for the alliance as the BJP made it a huge election issue. In the run up to the polls, then Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan surprised political observers by lamenting in an interview to The Telegraph that he could not act against some of his colleagues facing allegations of misdeeds due to political compulsions.

Weeks ahead of the October polls to the State Assembly, the ACB had written to the former Congress-NCP government seeking sanction to conduct an open inquiry into the alleged irregularities in the irrigation department in the scam pegged to over Rs. 70,000 crore. >The Hindu >was the first to report about the State Home Department giving its nod to the probe in September and the file was pending with Mr. Chavan.

Within hours after the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the polls, the NCP offered an unconditional and unilateral support to the BJP which led to criticism that it was meant to shield party bigwigs from possible corruption cases.

Reacting to the permission given by the BJP government, Mr. Pawar said that the matter is in the courts and let they decide its fate. “It’s their government. They can take decisions as they please. The matter is in the courts and let them decided on it,” he told the media who sought his reaction to the news.

The ACB officials told The Hindu while the formal order has not been received yet though they have learnt that the permission has come through.

Granting of permission to conduct an open inquiry mean that the agency can summon and question the accused on the alleged irregularities and prepare a report which will be sent to the State Home Department for further action.

“If we come to a conclusion that the politicians are bureaucrats were involved then a report stating the same would be sent to the state home department and we would seek further sanction to prosecute them,” said a senior ACB officer.

The scam came to light after activist Pravin Wategaonkar wrote to the department alleging that the tenders in the irrigation projects were awarded arbitrarily.

In his complaint, Mr. Wategaonkar named several people including the two NCP leaders who were in charge of the Water Resources Department when the contracts were allegedly awarded to a select group, in alleged violation of norms. He also named some of officials from the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC).

The complainant had incorporated the findings of the Madhav Chitale committee and the report prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

In its 2011 report, the CAG had pointed out several irregularities in the irrigation projects undertaken by the State government in the last decade. The auditor had based his observations on the information given by KIDC and the Water Resources Department

The scam was unearthed after the Economic Survey’s observation that the irrigation potential of the State had increased by only 0.1 per cent even though Rs. 70,000 crore had been spent on various projects in the last decade.

The allegation forced Mr. Pawar, who also held the water resources portfolio, to step down briefly in September 2012. Subsequently the government constituted a Special Investigation Team headed by Mr. Chitale, a water expert, to probe the alleged irregularities. In March 2014, the committee submitted its 13,000-page report to the government.

The committee however refrained from naming any politician, but stated that the members and the chairman of the governing council of the Irrigation Development Corporation should be held responsible for violation of norms and financial irregularities while granting sanctions to irrigation projects. Mr. Pawar was the chairman of the IDC’s governing council during the relevant period and also Water Resources Minister between 1999 and 2009. Mr. Tatkare succeeded Mr. Pawar as Water Resources Minister.

The state government however gave a clean chit to Mr. Pawar, when it tabled the report of the Madhav Chitale committee in the state Assembly. It however, promised action against the officials and engineers found responsible for the financial and administrative lapses in irrigation projects across Maharashtra

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 4:27:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/maharashtra-irrigation-scam-fadnavis-gives-nod-for-probe-against-ajit-pawar/article6686015.ece

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