Maharashtra irrigation scam: ACB puts onus on 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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