BJP president Nitin Gadkari on Thursday admitted having written a letter to water resources minister PK Bansal seeking release of funds to contractors working on a controversial irrigation project in Maharashtra, but strongly denied any wrongdoing.
“I wrote a letter to Bansal and will write 10 more.... It was done in the interest of the farmers of Maharashtra, to prevent farmer suicides in Vidarbha,” he said. Gadkari’s response came after news channels flashed a letter written by him on July 30 to Bansal in which he asked the Centre to release the pending payment of Rs. 400 crore to the Maharasthra government.
“The project works are in full speed. Due to non-payment of their dues, the contractors stop their works. This may delay the programme….Presently liability of about Rs. 400 crore is pending,” Gadkari stated in his two-page letter to Bansal.
Anti-dam activists and the Congress alleged that the main contractor of the project is Gadkari’s close aide and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti. Gadkari trashed the allegations and dared the Congress party to name the contractor.
“I will donate whatever wealth I have to anyone who can prove that I am linked to the contractors,” the BJP chief said.
The controversy is about the Gosikhurd dam project in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. It was commissioned in 1983 and declared a national project in 2008, making it eligible to receive Central funds.
The project has been blacklisted by several expert panels since it is facing time and cost overruns. Its cost has gone up from Rs. 372 crore in 1982 to an estimated Rs. 13,000 crore now.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, who is reported to have written a similar letter to the government, said: “It is clear that no contractor’s name is mentioned in the letter. The issue is that a central government project was pending.”
The Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption, however, were not convinced by Gadkari’s rebuttal.
“It is clear that he (Gadkari) was interested in contractors getting their money which they don’t deserve,” said Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. The IAC said Gadkari was more interested in helping firms involved in construction of dams rather than the farmers.