NEARLY A month after a work order for the Kondhane dam project was issued to FA Enterprises by the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), the cost of the project escalated five times — from Rs 54.54 crore to Rs 325.99 crore. According to the chargesheet filed in the case by the Maharashtra Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), the accused cited the increase in the dam’s height from the initial proposal of 43 metres to 74 metres as the reason behind the hike in the project cost. The then water resources minister, Sunil Tatkare, had signed the said proposal, says the chargesheet.
The ACB filed a 3,000-page chargesheet Monday against six former bureaucrats and the partner of FA Enterprises for alleged irregularities in the Kondhane dam project, which cost the state exchequer a loss of Rs 90.04 crore. While Tatkare has not been named as an accused, the chargesheet says his role is being probed.
“Tatkare has not been given a clean chit and his role is still being probed… If we find any wrongdoing on his part, we have the provision of filing a supplementary chargesheet against him or any other accused whose role crops up during the course of the investigation,” said a senior official from the ACB who did not wish to be named.
According to the chargesheet, on July 22, 2011, a work order was issued to FA Enterprise. However, on August 16, 2011, a proposal was sent by the technical chief engineer of the Thane irrigation department that said the height of the dam was ‘74 metres’. This alteration in height was cleared by accused R D Shinde, the then superintendent engineer, KIDC. Also, the said proposal was subsequently signed by Tatkare, following which, on August 28, 2011, accused Anand Kalukhe, the then executive engineer, Raigad irrigation department, Kolad, issued a fresh order granting additional funds of Rs 271.45 crore to FA Enterprises for the “extra work” undertaken by them.
However, the ACB probe reveals that a code was used to clear the escalation in the cost. “When the file was forwarded to accused Devendra Shrike, the then executive director, KIDC, he wrote ‘X’ on the file. ‘X’ was a code used to convey that the particular file should be processed as it is ‘beneficial’. This file was then forwarded to E B Patil, administrative director, KIDC, who remarked: “The proposal has to be cleared”, and then the said proposal was forwarded to Tatkare who signed on it,” the chargesheet reads.
The chargesheet accessed by The Indian Express also states that the increase in the cost did not stop at this. Two days after the Raigad irrigation department allowed Rs 271.45 crore to be granted to FA Enterprise, on August 26, 2011, Shinde sent another proposal to the chief engineer, KIDC, Mumbai Division, sharing another revised estimated cost of the Kondhane project at Rs 614.45 crore. However, the revision in the price was debated between the KIDC and the government, and the latter never agreed on the proposed cost.
The ACB probe has also revealed that the necessary environmental clearance was not taken for the project. “Accused Rajesh Rithe, the then acting executive engineer, Raigad irrigation department, Kolad, allowed the project despite the project not having clearance from the forest department, which is a mandatory requirement,” says the chargesheet.
Meanwhile, the ACB chargesheet also mentions the Madhav Chitale Committee report that says while the contractor had demanded Rs 114.3 crore to be released to it for the cost undertaken in the construction of the dam, the experts roped in by the government to assert the same had pegged the project cost at Rs 90.04 crore. The chargesheet says, “Since the project was bagged by bending the norms this amount (Rs 90.04 crore) is the loss to the state exchequer.”
Defence lawyer Prashant Patil, who represented the company, told The Indian Express that the state had recently issued a government resolution asking the authority concerned to release a payment that had to be spent by the contractor towards the construction of the dam.