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Maharashtra irrigation scam: ACB puts onus on Ajit Pawar

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Ajit Pawar

Nagpur | The Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has informed the Bombay High Court that its probe into the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam has revealed major lapses on part of the state’s former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and other government officials.

The scam, pegged at around Rs 70,000 crore, relates to alleged corruption and irregularities in approval and execution of various irrigation projects in Maharashtra during the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) rule.

Pawar was among the NCP ministers who were in-charge of the irrigation department at different times between 1999 and 2014 during the Congress-NCP coalition rule in Maharashtra. ACB’s Director General Sanjay Barve filed an affidavit before the Nagpur bench of the high court on Tuesday in response to a petition filed by an NGO, Janmanch.

The NGO, in it’s petition, raised concerns over irregularities in irrigation projects undertaken by the Vidharba and Konkan Irrigation Development Corporations.

The affidavit described the scam as a “weird case of conspiracy” in the water resources department which has “defrauded the government itself”.

“The dramatis personae, who put up this performance that cost the government dearly, are simply trying to hide behind the framework of rules and pass the buck,” it said.

It said several projects of the Vidarbha and Konkan irrigation development corporations suffered delays, cost escalations and non-realisation of projected goals of irrigation during Pawar’s stewardship as minister for water resources department.

“The ACB has observed that various irregularities have been committed in several of these tenders/works with uncanny similarity,” Barve said in his affidavit.

During inquiries, Pawar claimed he took decisions based on recommendations of secretary-level officers and that most of the decisions were taken at the field level, the affidavit said.

“It is observed that the minister in-charge of the water resources department shoves the responsibility on to the officers,” it said.

The ACB further said it had sought the opinion of the water resources department’s principal secretary about Pawar’s role as the minister.

The principal secretary, in his reply to the ACB, said Rule 10 of the Maharashtra Government Rules of Business and Instructions was self-explanatory and that nothing more needed to be added.

“Rule 10 of the Maharashtra Government Rules of Business and Instructions makes the minister in-charge of the department responsible for all the business and disposal thereof pertaining to the said department,” the affidavit mentioned.

The anti-graft agency also said that officials of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) obtained several major pecuniary advantages for contractors, contrary to public interest.

“The ACB has now filed 24 FIRs against officers and contractors in relation to projects of the VIDC and has closely examined the role of Respondent 7 (Pawar),” it said.

The affidavit alleged that VIDC’s officials bypassed procedures, acted against the government’s interest, favoured a select group of contractors and ensured that they got pecuniary benefits.

“The officials allowed and accepted sub-standard work and thereby caused a drain upon the public exchequer. These officials acted in an orchestrated manner,” it charged.

“It is like an orchestra where players have done their bit to create symphony and no one is ready to own up to the jarring notes,” it added.

The ACB has sought time to further probe the irregularities and initiate criminal action in accordance with the law.

Earlier this month, senior NCP leader Dhananjay Munde had denied Pawar’s involvement in the alleged scam and accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of trying to vitiate the political atmosphere ahead of elections.

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Rafale steals the show at Aero India

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Bengaluru | Political row hit Rafale jet was the cynosure of all eyes as the breathtaking display of manoeuvres by military aircraft and the aerobatic team cast a spell at Aero India, Asia’s premier air show here on Wednesday.

The city’s skies dazzled with somersaults and stunts by the metal birds, which also paid tributes to the Surya Kiran aircraft pilot killed in a mishap during rehearsal on Tuesday.

The might of the Rafale jet was in full flow as it roared into the skies at the Yelahanka air base, the venue for the event, giving a dazzling display with breathtaking manoeuvres.

The Rafale aircraft flew at low speed to pay tribute to Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi who died in a mid-air collision between two aircraft of IAF’s aerobatics team ‘Surya Kiran” during rehearsal on Tuesday.

Three Rafale jets have landed in Bengaluru for Aero India- two for flying and one on static display.

Rafale has been participating in the Aero India shows since 2011.

India has signed an Inter-Government Agreement with France to purchase 36 Rafales– to form two squadrons.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been carrying on a sustained campaign against the Modi government on Rafale, accusing it of favouring Anil Ambani’s firm as an offset partner and saying it was crony capitalism.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in Parliament recently revealed that the Rafale deal negotiated by the NDA government to procure 36 fighter jets was 2.86 per cent cheaper than the UPA’s 2007 offer.

The Jaguar, Tejas and Sukhoi 30 aircraft flew in the ‘missing man’ (aerial salute) formation in honour of Gandhi.

Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat, Air Force Chief B S Dhanoa and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba were also present.

Thebiennial edition of International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition – Aero India 2019 was inaugurated by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the presence of Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy.

Enthralling stunts were performed by Sarang aerobatics teams with daredevil crosses and spins, that has been the mainstay of the Aero India for many editions.

The air display began with vintage Dakota aircraft, followed by formations of Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv and Light Utility Helicopter, DO-228, Hawk and HTT40 aircrafts.

Then came the flypast and thrilling manoeuvres by MIG 21, Sarang team, Saras PT1, Embraer along with Sukhoi, Boeing P8I, LCA Tejas, HTT40, Sukhoi Su-30MKI, LUH, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Airbus 330 and the mighty B-52 Stratofortress bomber, among others.

LCA also paid tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who named it as Tejas, by performing certain sets of manoeuvres.

On static display among other things at the air show are HAL’s Light Utility Helicopter(PT-1), Light Combat Helicopter (TD-2), Advanced Light Helicopter (Rudra) and ALH MICU (Medical Intensive CareUnit).

The Aero India official website said a total of 61 aircraft would be on display and 403 exhibitors would be part of the show.

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Vande Bharat Express hits motorcycle, no damage: Railways

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New Delhi | The Vande Bharat Express hit a motorcycle near Allahabad on its third commercial run on Wednesday, the railways said, adding that no one was injured in the incident.

The incident occurred hours after stones were hurled at the train near Tundla in Uttar Pradesh in the morning.

The incident took place near Phaphamau, around 42 km from Allahabad.

“The train hit a motorcycle, which was abandoned by its owner on the tracks as he saw the train approaching while illegally trespassing on the tracks. While the vehicle has completely been damaged, the Vande Bharat Express suffered none. No one was injured and the train will run as per schedule,” Northern Railway Spokesperson Deepak Kumar said.

The train, made indigenously at a cost of around Rs 97 crore, has been plagued by issues since its trial runs commenced in November last year. It had suffered damage to its window panes when stones were hurled on it on two occasions previously.

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India, Saudi agree on need for increasing pressure on countries supporting terror: PM Modi

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New Delhi| India and Saudi Arabia agree that there is a need to increase all possible pressure on countries supporting terrorism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday after holding talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Prime Minister Modi and the Saudi Crown Prince explored ways to further deepen strategic ties against the backdrop of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama terror attack.

The barbaric terror attack in Pulwama last week is a cruel symbol of the scourge spread over the world by this anti-humanitarian danger, Modi said in his press statement with Salman by his side.

“In order to deal effectively with this threat, we agree that there is a need to increase all possible pressure on the countries supporting terrorism in any manner,” Modi said, without naming Pakistan.

He asserted that destroying the terror infrastructure and punishing terrorists as well as their supporters was “very important”.

Prime Minister Modi also called for a strong action plan for combating extremism and so that the powers spreading violence and terror cannot mislead the youth.

The Saudi Crown Prince, in his press statement, said his country will cooperate with India in tackling terrorism, including by intelligence sharing.

The crown prince arrived here on a less than 30-hour visit Tuesday night, a day after concluding his high-profile tour of Pakistan where he said the dialogue was the only way to resolve “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan.

In a special gesture, Modi received Salman at the airport here, signifying the importance India attaches to the visit by the leader of the Gulf nation.

In a joint statement, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Monday called for avoiding “politicisation” of the UN listing regime at a time when India was stepping up efforts to brand the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group’s chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist.

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