Eight months after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis gave his go-ahead for an open inquiry in the multi-crore irrigation scam, the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) has finally registered the first criminal case. On Tuesday morning, a first information report (FIR) was filed at Kopri police station in Thane in the Balganga dam case. The FIR names five employees of the contractor, FA Enterprises, which is owned by the Khatri family, and six officials of the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC).
Soon after filing the FIR, the ACB formed 16 teams and searched the homes of seven of the accused — the six KIDC officials and Nisar Khatri of FA Enterprises. They detained Khatri and Rajesh Chandrakant Rithe, deputy engineer of KIDC.
ACB sources said the two were likely to be arrested later in the evening. Large amounts of cash, jewellery, luxury vehicles and real estate were found during the searches conducted in Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai, Kolhapur, Pune and Sangli.
The search of Khatri’s assets revealed that he owns four buildings in Khar (with 27,000 sq ft of space), 18 vehicles, including 3 Mercedes and an Audi, 1.2kg of gold ornaments and 3kg of silver, according to a press release issued by the Thane ACB. An ACB source said that more homes would be searched in the coming days.
Sanjay Barve, additional director general of police (ACB) said, “We have filed an FIR against five people from FA Enterprises for submitting fake bank guarantees, fudging the tender process, and entering into a criminal conspiracy to cheat the government, among other things. The FIR also names six KIDC officials, who face corruption and criminal misconduct charges, among others.”
The Khatris have been irrigation contractors for over three decades and are considered politically influential. Their two firms, FA Constructions and FA Enterprises, bagged 11 projects in Konkan worth thousands of crores.
The FIR pertains to the Balganga dam in Thane district, which was cleared in haste, without clearances from the forest and environment departments or undertaking any land acquisition in 2009. The ACB accuses the Khatris of rigging the tendering process by setting up a fake firm, RN Nayak and Sons, to participate in the process. It claims the Khatris provided a fake bank guarantee of Rs1.52 crore on behalf of this firm. Even the Rs25 lakh demand draft that RN Nayak and Sons needed to participate in the bidding process came from the Khatris, the FIR claims.
Among other charges, the FIR has also said that clearing additional bills of the contractor without taking prior approval of CIDCO led to a loss of Rs92 crore for the government in the Balganga project.
The six KIDC officials have been booked for helping the Khatris rig the tender process by allowing FA Construction, a sister concern of FA Enterprises, to participate even though the firm had already bagged six projects in the Konkan region.
Existing norms prevent a firm from getting more than three projects at a time.
The ACB also accuses the officials of using drawings of another project, at Shai, to prepare a digital project report to bag the Balganga contract instead of creating an original design. This enabled the officials and the contractor to increase the cost of the tender by changing its scope, the ACB alleges.
The original cost of the project was hiked by 40%, from Rs 353 crore to Rs 488 crore, and awarded to FA Enterprises. Two years later, the contractor sought another, much larger cost hike of 150%, which increased the cost of the project to Rs 1,220 crore.
“The FIR clearly refers to the pre-tender process and tender qualification. We have clear evidence of misdoings. Other aspects, such as cost escalations and quality of work have not yet been covered in this. This is the first of the complaints – we are looking into 11 other cases in Konkan and wherever we find evidence, we will register a case,” said an ACB official, who did not wish to be named.
Those named in the FIR are Fateh Mohammed Khatri, Nisar Khatri, Jaitun Khatri, Abid Khatri and Jahid Khatri of FA Enterprises, who have been charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery, among other things. The FIR also charges KIDC officials Girish Babar (former executive director), Balasaheb Patil (former chief engineer, Konkan region), Ramchandra Shinde (former supervising engineer, Thaneirrigation board), Anand Kalukhe (former executive engineer), Rajesh Rite (deputy engineer) and Vijay Kamat (former branch engineer) with corruption, criminal misconduct, cheating and more.
This irrigation scam had forced former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, to resign in 2012 – albeit for just two months. The NCP, which controlled the water resources department for over a decade, has been under the scanner ever since the scam broke.