Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari on Thursday admitted having written a letter to water resources minister Pawan Kumar Bansal seeking release of funds to contractors working on a controversial irrigation project in Maharashtra, but denied any wrongdoing.
“I wrote a letter to Bansal and will write 10 more.... It was done in the interest of farmers; to prevent farmer suicides in Vidarbha,” Gadkari said.
His response came after news channels flashed a letter written by the BJP president on July 30 to Bansal in which he asked the Centre to release the pending payment of Rs400 crore to the Maharashtra government.
“The project work is on in full speed. Due to non-payment of their dues, contractors stop their work. This may delay the programme… Presently, a liability of about Rs400 crore is pending,” Gadkari had written in his two-page letter to Bansal.
Anti-dam activists and the Congress allege that the main contractor of the project is Gadkari’s close aide and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti.
Gadkari trashed the allegations and dared the Congress to name the contractor. “I will donate whatever wealth I have to anyone who can prove that I am linked to the contractors,” Gadkari said.
The controversy is about the Gosikhurd dam project in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. It was commissioned in 1983 and declared a national project in 2008, making it eligible for central funds. The project has been blacklisted by several expert committees since it is facing massive time and cost overruns. The spend has gone up from Rs372 crore in 1982 to an estimated Rs13,000 crore.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javedekar, who is reported to have written a similar letter to the government, said: “It is clear that no contractor's name is mentioned in the letter. The issue is that a central government project was pending.”
The Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption, however, were not convinced by Gadkari’s rebuttal. “It is clear that he [Gadkari] was interested in contractors getting their money which they don't deserve,” said Congress leader Digvijay Singh.
The IAC said the BJP president was more interested in helping companies involved in construction of dams, rather than the farmers.