Editor's Note: This article was originally published on 12 December, 2014 when the Devendra Fadnavis government approved an ACB probe into the Rs 70,000-crore scam. It is being updated and republished in light of the case being shut 48 hours after Pawar being sworn in as Maharashtra deputy chief minister.
Back in December 2012, NCP leader Ajit Pawar was facing tough times after then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis gave his assent for the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to conduct an inquiry into the irrigation scam. Even as Pawar said that he was not affected by the government's decision to probe the scam, the fresh probe threatened to take away the immunity Pawar got when he was given a clean chit by the earlier Maharashtra government.
So what is the whole scam about?
The entire scam was brought to light back in 2012 when Vijay Pandhare, the then chief engineer in the water resources department, wrote letters to the Maharashtra chief minister and governor pointing out the irregularities and cost variation in irrigation projects.
It was alleged that Ajit Pawar, who was Water Resources Minister between 1999 and 2009, had approved 38 projects worth Rs 20,000 crore in 2009 by tweaking rules and without clearance of Governing Council of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).
Moreover, despite huge expenditure, it appeared that there was no significant rise in irrigated land in the state. The percentage of irrigation potential had increased by just 0.1 percent in past ten years, despite an expenditure of Rs 70,000 crores on such projects.
The furor led to the resignation of Ajit Pawar.
Later on in 2012, the then Maharashtra government, led by Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan, had tabled a white paper on the issue in the Maharashtra Assembly, giving a clean chit to Pawar. After the clean chit, Pawar was brought back in the Maharashtra cabinet.
Both the NCP and Congress had to face a lot of flak for both the scam and the move to reinstate Pawar as Deputy CM. The opposition BJP accused the then CM Chavan of staging a cover-up under main ally NCP's pressure.
Soon after the white paper released by the Maharashtra government, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal released a "black paper on irrigation" to counter the white paper released by the government.
The "black paper" had claimed that the cost per hectare for bringing land under irrigation in Maharashtra is the highest in the country and probably in the world.
"The gross irrigated area has increased by a mere 8.9 percent in spite of an annual expenditure of Rs 7,000 crore, amounting to a staggering Rs 70,000 crore. That means expenditure of Rs 21.67 lakh per hectare, which is in gross violation as the limit mandated by the Central Water Commission of Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh per hectare," said Kejriwal's "black paper".
Kejriwal had also said that the white paper was a complete eyewash and was meant only to absolve the guilty.
In December 2012, the Maharashtra government announced a probe by Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the scam. The SIT, headed by water resources expert Madhav Chitale, submitted the report on the multi-crore irrigation scam to former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in March 2014.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in April 2013 had also pulled up the Maharashtra government for hundreds of incomplete irrigation projects across the state with massive cost overruns amounting to around Rs 27,000 crores, according to this Firstpost article.
Pandhare, who was responsible for exposing the scam, joined the AAP in December 2013.
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2019 15:55:19 IST