In a move that signals the probe into the multi-crore irrigation scam is gaining pace, the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) in Nagpur on Wednesday, filed its second first information report (FIR) in the Gosikhurd project, in connection with a Rs56-crore tender of a tail canal of the Mokhabardi lift irrigation scheme.
The FIR has been filed against directors of two firms, including one of the big irrigation contract firms, D Thakkar Construction Private Limited, and three officers of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).
The tender was won by D Thakkar Construction Private Limited in a joint venture with RJ Shah and Company in August 2009, ahead of the Assembly elections. A month earlier, former water resources minister Ajit Pawar and the executive director of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, Devendra Shirke, approved hiking the original estimate of the tender by 10.76%, from Rs5.09 crore to Rs56.88 crore.
In a modus operandi similar to many irrigation projects, the tender was given by fudging tender conditions and on the basis of fake work certificates.
D Thakkar and its sister concern SN Thakkar have also won other irrigation contracts in a joint venture with firms controlled by BJP MP Ajay Sancheti.
The FIR has been filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act and under sections 420, 467, 468, 120 B of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy against Kalindi Rajendra Shah and Tejaswini Rajendra Shah, both directors on RJ Shah and Company, and Vishal Pravin Thakkar, Pravin Thakkar, Jigar Thakkar, and Arun Kumar Gupta, all directors of D Thakkar Construction Private Limited. The three VIDC officials charged by the ACB include retired chief engineer Sopan Suryavanshi, executive engineer Umashankar Parvate and Chandan Jibhkate.
The FIR comes in the wake of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court ticking off the ACB for going slow in the probe. The investigative agency had then submitted an undertaking to the court stating it would investigate 40 tenders of the Gosikhurd project within six months.
The ACB’s charge is the contractors entered into a cartel and in a bid to show competition for the project showed there were four bidders. Besides these two firms, the other two were SN Thakkar Construction Private Limited (owned by the family of D Thakkar Group) and Srinivasa Construction. However, the earnest money deposit for Srinivasa Construction was paid from the account of D Thakkar. To obtain the contract, D Thakkar showed the work undertaken by its sister concern, SN Thakkar, as experience, even though the latter, too, had participated in the bidding process, the ACB has alleged.
While D Thakkar and SN Thakkar have competed as rivals for bagging irrigation contracts, their two main directors, Pravin Thakkar and Jigar Thakkar, are common to both the firms and were living in the same house in 2009. A staff member of D Thakkar’s firm had signed the tender document for SN Thakkar, ruling out any element of secrecy or competition in the bid. In the balance sheets of the firms in 2009 (when the project was tendered), they were declared as ‘associate concerns’. Despite this, irrigation officials accepted both in the first round, along with another firm, Srinivasa Construction. The ACB FIR states the work certificates submitted by D Thakkar to get the project were invalid and fake. The FIR adds: “Former VIDC officials carried out the tender process without any transparency and in a bid to cheat the government.”
HT had reported on the irregularities in the Mokhabardi lift irrigation project in its report last year and even said that an FIR was likely in the project.