Maharashtra’s irrigation sector is a complex web of contractor-official-politician connections, where who you know counts for everything.
In yet another indication that the Pune-based Raj Group had easy access to those in power, HT is in possession of a letter that one of its directors, Jagdish Kadam, wrote on May 19, 2009, to Ajit Pawar, who was the water resources minister, asking him to push the file for revised administrative approval for the Kuntephal lift irrigation project in Marathwada, which had just reached the state secretariat. Pawar’s
noting on the letter called for a proposal for a revised administrative approval (which envisages an increase in the cost) for the project “immediately”.
Three months after this letter was sent and tenders got processed, Kadam’s firm, Raj Promoters and Civil Engineers Private Limited landed the project worth Rs209 crore.
In an email to Hindustan Times, Kadam denied that he had written any letter to Pawar. He also said the contracts wre awarded on the basis of competitive bidding and merit. “Cost escalations are as per the terms of contract and there is no question of undue benefits,”he said.
On Friday HT had reported that the firm has a direct link with Pawar as Kadam is his maternal uncle’s son. From 2000-09, Kadam was also a director of one of Pawar’s firms, Non Con Energies.
The Raj Group has bagged at least 16 projects worth Rs803crore under the Congress-NCP government. Cost escalated by 4.83% to 41% for 11 of these projects, which include Kuntephal, Dhom Balkawadi canals, Chandrabhaga barrage, Umrodi project, and Karanjao.
Asked for his reaction, Pawar said, “I was told that a complaint regarding some allegations in irrigation have been made against me to the Chief Minister. Let the CM forward the same to Anti-Corruption Bureau that is currently investigating other such allegations against me. When the probe is complete, the truth will come out before the people.’’
Activist Anjali Damania has sought a detailed probe into the contracts handed to the Raj Group, in a complaint filed on Wednesday to the Governor, the Chief Minister, the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, the Enforcement Directorate and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
These projects have been bagged by the Raj Group by floating different entities including Raj Infrastructure Development Corporation, Raj Promoters and Civil Engineers Private Limited, and M/s Raj and Raj Construction to get around the norm that a single firm cannot win more than three contracts in any region. In the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC), the Group got five projects in different names, including one joint venture.
The Kuntephal project is part of the Krishna-Marathwada project that aims at getting water from Ujani dam in Solapur to Marathwada. The Special Investigation Team led by water expert Madhav Chitale had termed this entire project flawed and sought action against officials for clearing it.
“We always thought that the role of the contractor comes after the tenders are processed, but in this case it started with the contractor asking the minister to clear the revised administrative cost of the project so that stalled tender process can start again,” said activist Damania.
The Dhom Balkawadi canals (two separate projects) under the MKVDC were granted to Raj Promoters and Civil Engineers even after an assistant engineer pointed to lacunae including that the list of contractors in the pre-qualified tender and post-qualified tenders was completely different.