Vijay Pandhare, chief engineer, Maharashtra Engineering Research Institute (MERI) and a whistleblower in the irrigation scam speaks to Hindustan Times.
The NCP has claimed that you are mentally unstable and even distributed a 2001 report where your senior has stated the same.
If I am mentally unstable as alleged in the 2001 report, how is it that I was given a promotion in 2003, and then again in 2009, when I was made a chief engineer? Till now, all my reports have been classified as 'exclusive' by the department, and I have never been asked to undergo any medical tests. In 2001, I prepared a report that exposed the inferior work at Lower Tapi. My seniors and colleagues laughed at me and even said that if I escalate the matter, it will be of no use, and one day I will turn insane fighting for the cause.
My superior, MK Kulkarni, who forwarded my report stating I was 'mentally unstable', was under pressure from everyone to rubbish me. Incidentally, he spoke to me a week ago and said he appreciated my work and will help me unearth other scams.
Did you face pressure from the government to not pursue this? How does your family react to this?
Till now, I have written three letters to the government about the huge misappropriations in the department. When I brought the issue up with my colleagues and seniors, I realised all of them were under pressure and no one wanted to say anything against it. That is when I resolved to act to encourage my department to speak out. At least Rs35,000 crore have been spent over the past 10 years with unnecessary expenditure of around Rs 20,000 crore, which I have highlighted.
I decided to become a whistleblower to stop people's money from being wasted. There have been indirect threats and pressures, but they haven't stopped me from doing my job. My family is not scared and is very supportive of me.
What are the main loopholes in the department that need to be plugged on priority?
First is the way cement is bought, and second is the issue of lift irrigation dams - both have been highlighted in my letters to the Governor and the chief minister. Previously, cement was provided by the government. Now, private contractors supply it. There is no system that makes it mandatory to monitor the use of cement in construction.
Also, not even 1% of the 3,000 lift irrigation projects have succeeded. History shows that [lift irrigation] is a failure. Yet, we have given a go-ahead for 200 additional projects. The way tenders are released and rate charts are manipulated also needs to be fixed. All this needs to stop.
What do you think of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar's resignation? Don't you feel officials are also responsible for loopholes in the system?
I do not want to comment on any political development. All I would say is that the government has started acting and will move positively and the truth will be out. As far as officials are concerned, those found guilty should be suspended so that a message is conveyed that corruption will not be entertained.