The Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has replied to the queries raised by the Enforcement Directorate in the multi-crore irrigation scam case being probed by the two agencies. According to sources, the ACB received a one-page query from the ED on June 5 seeking details on the investigation in the Balganga dam project. The queries included one on the role of the ‘approving authority’, in this case senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar who was the water resources minister when the project was sanctioned.
The sources said the agency had shared details of its recent findings, including on Pawar’s role, and mentioned that while he had not been given a clean chit in the case yet, investigation was still under way regarding his role as the sanctioning authority. The Balganga project is one of the 13 projects that the Maharashtra government had told the ACB to probe in January 2015 in response to a PIL filed in the Bombay High Court against alleged corruption in several irrigation projects. The allegations against Pawar, who had headed the water resources ministry for over a decade since 1999, relates to approval of cost escalations of 32 irrigation projects by over Rs 17,000 crore.
While Pawar was questioned by the ACB, he was not named in its chargesheet filed last year. The ACB has so far lodged two FIRs and filed one chargesheet in the irrigation scam. The ED had sent a letter on May 30 asking the ACB to share the details of its findings of a joint survey of the project (Balganga project) at site to estimate the cost and material estimation of the project, besides the statements of the various persons recorded by the ACB. The ED has requested the ACB to share the status of investigation, including role of officers and others in granting approval and also quid pro quo observed by the state agency.
The ED wrote to the ACB after its probe revealed that over 18 irrigation contracts were bagged by companies in which a relative of Pawar and an associate are directors. Investigators came across a complex web of shell companies allegedly floated to launder money, which they say was used to purchase assets. “We suspect that the relative was a front, the money received for contracts from the state were diverted to these shell companies for the purpose of laundering to purchase assets. Therefore, we require the details on the fresh findings made by the ACB in the said case,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named.
The sources said six months after the in 2009 was undertaken by the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation, which came under Pawar’s ministry, the cost rose from Rs 414 crore to Rs 1,600 crore. Senior officers from ED claimed that this was not a case of witchhunt. “The central agency is not dragging the former DCM unnecessarily but if the evidence throws up something, those need to be probed. We will study the ACB reply before deciding on whether or not Pawar or his kin should be summoned for questioning,” said an official.
In August 2015, the ACB registered an FIR against 10 accused under the Prevention of Corruption Act for allegedly causing a loss of Rs 92 crore to the government through misconduct in connection with the construction of a dam over Balganga river in Raigad. Six of the accused were government servants posted with the KIDC at the time, while four are partners in a company that got the contract. Following the ACB’s case, the ED registered a money laundering case against the accused.