Even as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday told HT that the ongoing probe into Maharashtra’s irrigation scam by the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) would look into former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s links to the Pune-based Raj Group, the evidence is growing.
Documents HT has accessed show that administrative norms were flouted in issuing the tender notice and the work order for the Kuntephal- Ashti Lift Irrigation scheme in Marathwada, a Rs201-crore component of which was bagged by the Raj Group, one of whose directors, Jagdish Kadam, is Pawar’s cousin.
“`The complaint [filed by activist Anjali Damania] will be sent to the ACB, it will be part of the inquiry being conducted against Pawar in the irrigation scam,’’ said Fadnavis. Damania had filed a complaint to the governor, the chief minister, and the chief justice of the Bombay high court seeking a probe against Ajit Pawar.
HT had reported earlier that Raj Group’s Kadam had written to Pawar in May 2009, asking him to push the proposal for revised administrative approval to the project. Documents show that the tender notice (February 2009) and work order (August 2009) for this project were issued without administrative approval. What’s more glaring is that the work order for the project came on the day the principal secretary of the planning department, Sunil Soni, pointed out through a letter that including this lift irrigation scheme in the larger Krishna-Marathwada project would be a ``gross violation’’ of the governor’s directives as it was a new project and did not have administrative approval. In Maharashtra, the governor has a say in how development funds should be disbursed so as to redress regional imbalances.
The Kuntephal-Ashti scheme is part of the larger Krishna-Marathwada project that envisages lifting water from Ujani dam in Solapur (in western Maharashtra) to dry Marathwada (central Maharashtra).
The project was planned with two lift irrigation schemes in Osmanabad district and got administrative approval in August 2007. The water resources department decided to add the Kuntephal-Ashti scheme to this project in November 2008. But, tender notice was issued in February 2009 before any administrative approval. The tender notice was issued without mandatory administrative approval, water availability certificate, valid cross section drawings from the Central Design Organisation and, above all, reliable water supply.
On August 25, 2009, the principal secretary (planning) in an internal note circulated to the Finance Minister with copies to the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister and the Water Resources Minister pointed out: “The governor’s directives of 2009-10 state that no new project should be taken up given the state of pending irrigation projects. The Krishna Marathwada project had got administrative approval for two lift irrigation scheme. Now, while granting revised administrative approval, a third one (Ashti) is being included. This is a gross violation of the governor’s directives and this new project cannot be included at this stage. “
Soni’s warning fell on deaf ears. On the same day, the executive engineer of the Osmanabad irrigation division issued the work order for the Kuntephal storage tank of the Ashti lift irrigation scheme worth Rs201 crore to Raj Promoters and Civil Engineers Private Limited. This cost is roughly estimated at Rs285 crore now.
The revised administrative approval for the Krishna Marathwada project including the Kuntephal storage tank came two days later on August 27, 2009. The project cost had been revised from Rs2,382 crore to Rs4,845 crore.