Even as the Anti Corruption Bureau filed its first charge sheet for the irrigation scam in the Balganga project in Konkan, the probe for the Vidarbha projects has been going nowhere and may be headed for a quiet burial.
In the last 19 months, since the Nagpur ACB started its probe into the Vidarbha projects, only two FIRs have been filed in two tenders of the Gosikhurd project.
In this period, the ACB Nagpur saw three superintendents of police even as the investigating officer’s job changed from that of a deputy superintendent of police (Dy SP) to an inspector-rank officer and back to the Dy SP and finally a team of officials.
Activists said the changes in the investigating team and its chief is indicative of the political interference in the probe. They alleged that at the crux of the slow investigations are politically influential contractors who are next in line if the probe progresses, including firms associated with BJP MP Ajay Sancheti and BJP MLC Mitesh Bhangadia.
SMS infrastructure, the firm promoted by the Sancheti family, had several contracts awarded to it by the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC). Many of these were in joint venture with D Thakkar Private Limited, a firm that has been charged by the ACB in one of the two FIRs filed in the scam.
When the probe was announced, ACB Nagpur was led by Prakash Jadhav, who got transferred in May last year, five months after the probe was announced. Jadhav was replaced by the then SP of Chandrapur, Rajiv Jain, who was considered an upright officer. He was to take the probe forward.
However, just as Jain speeded up the probe, he got marching orders in February this year, nine months into the job. He was replaced by IPS officer Sanjay Darade.
The investigating officer into the probe has, similarly, been shifted from Dy SP Milind Totre to inspector Yuraj Patki and then back to Totre, who is now the nodal officer of the team leading the investigations.
“The Vidarbha scam investigation has been a joke. Jain, who had got the probe moving, was shunted out just when he had recommended action for two tenders of the Gosikhurd project and had called former VIDC superintending engineer and later officer on special duty to Union minister Nitin Gadkari, SL Kolhapurkar for questioning,” said a source associated with the scam probe.
He said that the manner of investigation clearly showed the intention to scuttle the probe.
Jain had shunted out Totre as the investigating officer (IO) in the scam in January 2015, saying he had gone slow on the probe but the officer was taken back as the IO after Jain’s ouster.
“In the court, the ACB in its affidavit in March had said that the investigations in the Vidarbha scam will be led by 14 teams of two officers each to probe 40 tenders of Gosikhurd project. This probe was to be completed in six months. If 14 teams are working on the scam, why is there no progress in the probe,” asked Anil Kilor of Jan Manch that had filed the original PIL against the Vidarbha cost escalations. That PIL was disposed of after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered an open probe into the scam against former water resources minister Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare in December 2014.
The organisation moved another PIL in January this year complaining that the open probe was heading nowhere.