Ajit Pawar, who took oath as deputy chief minister in a BJP-led government on Saturday morning, has been linked to cases in the alleged multi-thousand crore irrigation scam currently before the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court.
Although Ajit Pawar has not been named as accused yet in any of the cases, then Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) DGP Sanjay Barve had said in an affidavit in November 2018 that Pawar had intervened in the process of award of contracts for irrigation projects, by ensuring that mobilisation advance (MA) was given to contractors by tweaking rules, and also by approving irregular escalations of project costs.
The HC is scheduled to hear the matters on November 28. Late Saturday evening, it appeared that most NCP MLAs
flock, barring Ajit Pawar, remains with party chief Sharad Pawar. When Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is required to seek a vote of confidence in the Assembly could depend on the proceedings in the Supreme Court on Sunday morning — when a petition by the Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress against the Governor comes up for hearing.
The HC has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction over the slow progress of the investigation. The first Devendra Fadnavis government had started the probe after being sharply nudged by the HC after about a year of coming to power in 2014. The first offence was registered on February 23, 2016, and the first chargesheet was filed on September 3 that year in a sessions court. On the directions of the HC, two Special Investigation Teams were formed on April 4, 2018. On August 23, 2018, the HC directed that all cases should be disposed of in three months.
As Leader of Opposition when the Congress-NCP was in power, Fadnavis had repeatedly accused Pawar — then deputy chief minister — of corruption and diverting irrigation funds meant for Vidarbha to western Maharashtra, and demanded an investigation by the CBI.
In the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections, the BJP used the alleged Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam as the rallying point for its campaign. At one point, Fadnavis had told reporters: “BJP will never, never, never have an alliance with the NCP. All talk about a possible alliance between the two parties are rumours. Our fight is against corruption.”
Along with other party leaders, Fadnavis took to the streets riding a bullock cart loaded with copies of documents, to demonstrate how much evidence there was about the so-called “irrigation scam” against Pawar and his NCP colleague Sunil Tatkare, who held the water resources portfolio between them from 1999 to 2009.
But over the past five years, whenever he was asked about the irrigation scam cases, Fadnavis’s stock reply has been: “The government is committed to acting against corruption. The matter will take long, as it is legally complicated.”
The HC is hearing five PILs together. Four of them are regarding four projects — Lower Pedhi, Raigad Barrage, and Waghadi in Amravati district, and Jigao in Buldana district — while the fifth, filed by the NGO Janmanch, is regarding the Ghosikhurd project in Bhandara district.
So far, 20 FIRs have been filed in the Nagpur division cases, and five in the Amravati division cases. Five chargesheets have been filed so far in the Nagpur cases; none yet in the Amravati cases.
Together, ACB Nagpur and ACB Amravati are investigating 302 tenders for irregularities including updation of tender cost above the permissible 5 per cent, awarding contracts to unregistered joint venture companies by irrigation officials, and submission of false work experience certificates by contractors, etc.
On Pawar, the ACB affidavit said: “The Water Resources Department (WRD) had issued a circular on April 16, 2008, stating that provision of MA should not be made in any tender. This circular was annulled vide circular dated July 25, 2008. It is pertinent to note that the personal secretary to Ajit Pawar, Suresh Jadhav, wrote to the Secretary, WRD on May 14, 2008, stating that the Minister had directed that the said circular along with the circular laying down the guidelines for tenders be cancelled and compliance be submitted to the Minister.”
Further, “the grant of MA in Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation’s (VIDC) tenders was in gross contravention of the rules, the same was granted to bidders who quoted way above 5 pc of the tender cost through a rigged tender process and afforded an undue pecuniary advantage to the contractors. Although the advance is repaid, the advantage derived by the contractor continues to stay.”
Besides the alleged irrigation scam, the other issue that was raised by the BJP in successive elections was the multicrore scam in Maharashtra State Cooperative Board (MSCB).
On September 23, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a case of alleged money laundering against both Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar, and 70 others, including Ishwarlal Jain and Shivajirao Nalawade of the NCP, Anandrao Adsul of the Shiv Sena, Jayant Patil of the PWP, and Diliprao Deshmukh and Madan Patil of the Congress, in connection with the alleged Rs 25,000 crore scam at the MSCB during 2007-17.
The ED registered the case after taking cognizance of an FIR registered by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police with regard to the alleged scam after a Bombay High Court order of August 22.
Another senior NCP leader, Praful Patel, is facing investigation by both the CBI and ED in connection with alleged irregularities in the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India, and the purchase of 111 aircraft when he was civil aviation minister in the UPA government.
Also, on October 15, the ED questioned Praful Patel in connection with a money laundering case involving the late Iqbal Mohammed Memon aka Iqbal Mirchi, a former close aide of gangster Dawood Ibrahim.
(With ENS Mumbai, New Delhi)