What role did former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar play in commissioning and granting approvals for the Balganga dam project in Raigad that has cost the state exchequer a loss of Rs 1,105 crore ? And, did the minister’s decisions confirm with the rules of business of the government ?
This is the key question before the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) in its probe against Pawar in the Balganga dam. The investigators have now asked the water resources department of Maharashtra to clarify its rules of business specifically pertaining to routing of files. The water resources department’s reply could decide the further action against the former water resources minister, who stands accused of major irregularities in the multi crore irrigation scam.
The ACB charge sheet accessed by HT tells a sordid story of how public money has been swindled in the construction of the dam. (see box on violations). But, while it nails contractors and officials, it has stopped short of linking the irregularities to the door of the minister. Pawar was the water resources minister when the project was cleared.
``Before making charges against such a big man, we have to be clear that these charges will stand legal scrutiny. We have written a letter on July 27 to the water resources department seeking its opinion on government rules, to probe if the policy decisions taken by Pawar were in line with existing norms and his powers or can be construed as misuse of position,’’ said an investigator associated with the case.
Depending on the reply, the ACB will probe further and file supplementary charges. The specific areas where Pawar’s role is being probed include updating tender cost by 40 per cent and granting of Rs 25 crore mobilization advance to the contractor.
The ACB has tagged the total loss to state exchequer due to the Balganga project at Rs 1,105 crore.
Pawar had cleared the mobilization advance even though the tender conditions had expressly said that this was not allowed and an earlier attempt by the contractor to get this advance had been turned down. This file was moved from the Executive Director of Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC) to the minister without routing it to the water resources secretary.
The minister had approved updating of the tender cost by 40 per cent after the bids had been opened from Rs 353 crore to Rs 495 crore. By rules, any cost escalation more than 15 per cent has to be cleared by a committee of officials including water resources, planning and finance secretaries. Pawar had also chaired the meeting on January 28, 2009 to commission the Balganga project and directed KIDC officials to prepare tender estimates.
The water resources department has so far not replied to the ACB.
Some of the violations in the Balganga dam listed by the ACB :
*The project was approved using a project design of another dam, Shai, even though the project design for Balganga was available since 1996 and without a technical clearance.
* Nearly Rs 317 crore of bills presented by the contractor were cleared without submission of all the bills.
* The contractor presented inflated bills for materials like sand claiming that the material was being brought from Satara to Raigad. The sand was actually got from Mahad in Raigad district.
*The project was commissioned as a drinking water supply project but till date does not have approval of the water supply and sanitation department. It did not have clearance from Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority.
* The approval for the tender estimates was got from CIDCO by a fax much before the agency’s board cleared the project.