Irrespective of when former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar returns to the state cabinet, the sting and stigma of corruption on the Maharashtra Water Resources Department cannot be erased easily. It cannot be erased till such point that the water resources department, controlled by Pawar for more than a decade since 1999, gets a clean chit from a credible institution such as the judiciary.
Apart from the allegations of corruption amounting to a whopping Rs 35,000 crore made by senior irrigation official and whistle-blower Vijay Pandhare, two Public Interest Litigations (PILs) alleging mega irrigation scams are pending in the Bombay High Court. The manner in which these allegations and court cases open up in the months to come will be more crucial to Pawar than the state government’s recently-released White Paper which has sought to silence the critics of Ajit Pawar and the water resources department.
In October, BJP MLA Babanrao Lonikar from Jalna district filed a PIL with the Aurangabad Bench of the high court seeking investigations into the cost escalation of nearly Rs 2,400 crore in the construction of 11 barrages on the Godavari. A one-man commission headed by former Water Resources secretary MK Kulkarni found several irregularities in the project, including corruption and favouritism shown to contractors. The Kulkarni report was, however, never tabled in the state legislature and nothing came out of that inquiry.
Another PIL in the Bombay High Court filed by two activists and a lawyer alleged corruption to the extent of Rs 26,000 crore in irrigation projects under the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation. Once again, this PIL has sought a probe into the severe cost escalation of 38 projects- from Rs 6,600 crore to Rs 20,000 crore.
The PIL alleged that "mobilisation advances" of Rs 614 crore were given to firms under the control of BJP MP Ajay Sancheti, NCP MLC Sandip Bajoria and Pune-based construction baron, Avinash Bhosale, whose close and questionable association with Ajit Pawar has been reported extensively by the media.
Early this year, former chief engineer in the water resources department Vijay Pandhare blew the whistle on irregularities in his department by writing to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. He alleged that as much as Rs 35,000 crore had been siphoned off from irrigation projects in the state over a 10-year period by a corrupt nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors. Pandhare who is now chief engineer at the Maharashtra Engineering Training Academy, Nashik, also demanded an investigation into the functioning of all state irrigation organisations.
Amidst all this, NCP leader and state water resources minister Sunil Tatkare who presented his department's White Paper on the irrigation scam along with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan recently, is himself facing serious allegations of corruption and a probe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The White Paper on irrigation thus brings little relief for Ajit Pawar. This document, which rubbishes the State Economic Survey Report’s claim of a negligible 0.1 percent increase in state irrigation potential over the last 10 years, lacks credibility. It has been questioned by experts on many points.
Economists are adept at juggling data one way or the other to suit their end results and we now have two official sets of data showing different levels of irrigation potential created in Maharashtra in the last decade. First was the Economic Survey Report quoted by Chavan which stated a 0.1 percent rise in irrigation potential after spending Rs 70,000 crore. And now, the White Paper which claims that the increase in the state irrigation potential could be as high as 5.17 percent and that Rs 42,000 crore — and not Rs 70,000 crore - was spent on irrigation projects in the last 10 years.
All of it now appears farcical: The Chief Minister’s announcement of a White Paper about eight months ago to set the record straight, Ajit Pawar’s high voltage resignation drama in September and the NCP’s pre-determined position that the White Paper would give a clean chit to Pawar and pave the way for his honourable return to the state cabinet. What is real and not a joke is the massive corruption in the irrigation sector in Maharashtra.
The central issue of corruption in the state water resources department has remained unaddressed and it is this that could prove the undoing for Pawar. Now that the White Paper- seen more as a sham than anything else- has been presented, the focus can return to this central issue. The people in the state will eagerly await the outcome of the PILs and more irrigation-related scams could be expected to tumble out. All of this means that there won’t be any easy relief for Ajit Pawar on the irrigation front as yet.
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Updated Date: Dec 01, 2012 21:25:39 IST