With ties between the Congress and former ally Nationalist Congress Party turning uneasy again, both parties were at each other’s throats Thursday trading charges during the Budget Session of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
The Congress mounted an open offensive against former deputy chief minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar alleging that there had been widespread corruption in the energy department during the Democratic Front reign in the state when Pawar held the portfolio.
Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress even demanded a CBI investigation into contracts awarded during Pawar’s term, demanding that the new BJP-led government bring out a “white paper” on the energy sector.
The NCP returned the favour targeting Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for cost escalations in Mumbai infrastructure projects. It too sought a white paper on projects taken up by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) over the last 10 years, which was under Chavan’s direct control after he took over state’s reins in 2010. Chavan later said he would have no objection to a white paper being brought out on MMRDA projects.
Tension has been simmering between the former allies, who had parted ways ahead of the assembly polls in the state, following NCP’s move to oust Legislative Council chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh, a Congress leader, with the help of the ruling BJP on Monday.
During a discussion on the power scenario in the state, which was moved by the treasury bench, Vikhe-Patil said, “There has been a scam of several thousand crores in the past few years. I ask the new government to order a CBI probe in the matter. A white paper on the energy sector must be brought out too.”
Mounting an all-out offensive against Pawar, Vikhe-Patil went on to allege that several energy related contracts were awarded in a non-transparent fashion during the previous regime. He also alleged that 68 contracts worth Rs 4,362 crore were awarded in a single day.
Without naming Pawar, Vikhe-Patil further alleged that generation from state-run power plants was deliberately mishandled to enrich the coffers of private firms. He even alleged that a private consultant employed by the state-run distribution company Mahavitran was paid Rs 30 crore from a power firm for helping them win a “Rs 260 crore damages claim” against Mahavitaran.
Vikhe-Patil, who held the agriculture portfolio in the Prithviraj Chavan cabinet and is known for his differences with the Pawar family, also demanded “disbanding of the Maharashtra Energy Regulatory Commission (MERC)” alleging that it did not work for citizens’ welfare. “We (the Congress-NCP government) appointed retired IAS officers to head the commission only because they were good to us,” he said.
Vikhe-Patil also launched a tirade against senior IAS officer and former Maharashtra energy secretary Ajoy Mehta, demanding a probe against him too.
Mehta, who now heads the state’s environment department, had initiated action against Vikhe-Patil-controlled Pravara cooperative over a matter concerning electricity distribution. Even during the Congress-NCP reign, the former minister had targeted Mehta during cabinet meetings, demanding his ouster from the department.
Chavan, however, persisted with Mehta. On Thursday, the Congress leader cast aspersion on Mehta’s initiative to appoint private franchisees to recover electricity dues, which, he alleged, was fraught with irregularities.
Meanwhile, in the Upper House, NCP members launched a veiled offensive against Chavan for cost escalation in the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro, and other MMRDA-run infrastructure projects. The NCP members even sought a white paper on cost escalations in all projects of the MMRDA in the last 10 years.
During a calling-attention motion, NCP’s Dhananjay Munde, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, blamed the then state government and the then Union government for the Metro fare hike. “The hike took place because the Union government did not set up the Fare Fixation Committee on time.”
It was during this discussion when NCP’s Sunil Tatkare, also a cabinet minister in the Chavan government, sought a white paper to probe cost escalations in MMRDA projects.