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Will white paper be a whitewash?

The people of Mumbai and Maharashtra have a right to know where their money, amounting to Rs 70,000 crore, has gone. Vaibhav Purandare writes.

india Updated: Oct 04, 2012 01:05 IST
Vaibhav Purandare

The people of Mumbai and Maharashtra have a right to know where their money, amounting to Rs 70,000 crore, has gone.

This amount has apparently been spent over the last one decade on the state's irrigation sector, with the astonishing result that the state's irrigation capacity in this period has risen by 0.1 per cent. Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has held the water resources portfolio for more than a decade, has questioned this percentage, saying it is actually a little more than 5.

Some gall, that. But now that the dust over Ajit Pawar's resignation drama has settled, and now that we have suitably analysed Pawar politics, can we get down to the core issue of investigating how the funds have been spent and what, really, we have to show for it?

The first obstacle to the probe is the nature of the probe itself. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has announced a white paper on the subject. But relying on the irrigation department alone for the figures may be too risky, as that would allow the accused to play the role of the investigating and prosecuting agency. Other departments involved in implementation of the projects, such as agriculture, should be involved in the probe, and their numbers checked with those of the irrigation department.

Second, it is not just a question of determining the amount spent and the extent of work done. It is, equally, about the quality and effectiveness of the work. Do we know if the 0.1% growth, or 5%, if we are to believe the NCP, is for real? The white paper needs to tell us that.

Third, the subject of irrigation can be so mired in a web of technical detail that the truth is effectively obfuscated. In order to ensure that that does not happen, the CM should rope in officials such as the whistleblower in this case, state official Vijay Pandhare, for the investigation.

And fourth, the whistleblower needs to be protected. He has already been called 'insane' by the NCP. This call-the-dog-mad-and-shoot-him approach cannot be allowed to go beyond the verbal; if it does — and the NCP has affiliate groups, especially in Pune, that are violent — it will be a blot on the state.

For all this, what we may get at the end of the day may be a whitewash, given the accused-as-investigator arrangement. That will be one more example of the executive and the legislature in this country letting us down, and one more reason for us to look, yet again, to the courts.