For the first time since former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar came under the scanner in Maharashtra’s multi-crore irrigation scam, it has come to light that he may have a direct link to one of the firms that won several projects during the Congress-NCP regime.
The firm, Pune-based Raj Group, bagged at least 16 irrigation projects worth Rs 803 crore, including 11 during Pawar’s tenure as water resources minister. The directors of this group include Jagdish Kadam, son of Pawar’s maternal uncle, and Ram Udaysinh Nimbalkar, a close associate.
Documents from the water resources department show 11 of the projects the Raj Group bagged saw costs rise over the initial amount by 4.83% to 41%, and bear the signatures of Pawar as water resources minister.
A complaint in this regard was filed with the governor, the chief minister, the chief justice of the Bombay high court, the enforcement directorate and the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) by activist Anjali Damania on Wednesday. She has sought a detailed probe into the contracts handed out to Raj Group. Damania alleged that the firm’s directors have business ties with Pawar.
The irrigation scam broke in 2012 after it was revealed that even after spending Rs 42,500 crore over a decade, Maharashtra had brought only 0.1% of the targeted land under irrigation. It was revealed that a nexus of contractors-officials-politicians had milked thousands of crores meant for irrigation projects and the NCP, which had controlled the department, and Pawar came under a scanner.
Pawar had been water resources minister for nearly a decade from 1999 and had allegedly cleared cost escalations of 32 irrigation projects by more than Rs 17,000 crore. Following allegations, Pawar quit the cabinet only to return within 3 months.
Last year, the Devendra Fadnavis government gave the go-ahead to an anti-corruption bureau (ACB) probe against Pawar following a public interest litigation.
Damania’s letter points to a web of more than 60 companies allegedly controlled by Pawar’s kin and associates, with business interests in irrigation, construction, realty, roads, distilleries, sugar companies, automobiles, wind and hydro power, and chemicals. Records from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs show Kadam and Nimbalkar along with some others are directors on boards of several companies.
Pawar was a director of five companies until 2009, in one company with Kadam. His wife Sunetra Pawar was a director of 20 companies, in some cases until 2014. She was a director of some seven companies with Kadam and of at least one with Nimbalkar.
Pawar did not respond to calls, text messages and an email sent by HT to his PA Sunil Musale. The latter denied these allegations as baseless and said Pawar had no business relations with Kadam and Nimbalkar. Sources in water resources department said the Raj Group has bagged projects under various other names including Raj Infrastructure Development Corporation, Raj Promoters and Civil Engineers Private Limited, and M/s Raj and Raj Construction.
The group’s website showed that it had bagged government contracts in roads, irrigation besides having private clients such as Lavasa, HCC and Amby Valley City.
Both Kadam and Nimbalkar refuted the allegations.
Kadam told HT over the phone, “I am Pawar’s maternal cousin but that is no reason to favour me. Our firm has been in business since 1988, at least 10 years before Pawar became irrigation minister. We have got irrigation contracts but we have got them through competitive bidding and no undue benefits were passed on to us.
“It is baseless to say that our company received contracts because of proximity to Ajit Pawar. Both Nimbalkar and I are qualified civil engineers and professionals,” he said and added that his brother was a two-term BJP MLA and his father had contested elections on a Jan Sangh ticket.
In response to an email from HT, Nimbalkar said, “It is not true that Ajit Pawar and I share any business interests. Ajit Pawar does not hold any shares in my company or vice versa. Raj Infrastructure Development (I) Pvt Ltd is executing only 4 projects for the Maharashtra Irrigation Department. Out of which 2 projects are in JV partnership with a public limited company.’’
He added that in every tender, there was a cost escalation clause, and the escalation claimed by his firm was in accordance with contractual terms and regulations. No undue favors or benefits had been accorded to him, he said. He also said tha the and his family held the shares of Raj Infrastructure Development (I) Pvt Ltd and that neither Kadam nor the Pawars held any shares or control in this company.
Raj Group’s website, however, shows Jagdish Kadam, Ram Nimbalkar as its directors along with two other individuals. The website was accessible until Thursday morning (screen shots were taken by HT) but went under construction from Thursday afternoon.
In a written email, Kadam denied that there were 69-odd companies where he and Pawar were directors together. While Kadam admitted that Nimbalkar was part of Raj Group, the latter has denied it. Nimbalkar claimed that they headed distinctly separate firms.