Did the irrigation scam finally catch up with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has been controlling the water resources department for the last 13 years?
Despite deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s shocking and perhaps politically astute resignation, the NCP and the ruling DF government have a lot to answer for when it comes to irrigation in the state.
Consider this. The cost of irrigation projects has more than doubled in seven years from Rs. 33,000 crore in 2005 to Rs. 75,000 crore today. Over the last 10 years, the state has spent Rs. 42,500 crore on irrigation. Despite this, only 17.9% of the state’s cultivated land is irrigated, among the lowest in India. Though talks of corruption in irrigation contracts have been doing the rounds over the last few years, it’s only this year that allegations of cost escalations aggregated into a mega scam.
Political insiders say it was chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who set the ball rolling with a demand for a white paper on irrigation — detailing cost incurred on projects and land bought for irrigation. In a move unprecedented by Congress CMs, Chavan openly sided with the opposition and activists raising questions over misappropriation of funds. The move alienated the NCP, perhaps, forever.
The allegations started after India Against Corruption (IAC) exposed cost escalations and irregularities in several relatively new irrigation projects in Konkan like Balganga, Kondhane, Kalu. At the centre of the controversy was water resources minister Sunil Tatkare, a close Pawar aide, but everyone knew that the controversy would soon singe the deputy CM. NCP sources said what irked Pawar more than anything else is his belief that chief minister or a senior politician is behind the move.
“Why should my image be dented? I don’t want people to think I can pressurise inquiry as I am in power. I used powers available to me to clear projects quickly. That’s my working style and I won’t be blamed for that,” Pawar said.