The state government has set up yet another committee, the fifth so far, to specifically probe 66 projects in connection with the multi-crore irrigation scam, following court directives. The panel has not, however, been asked to fix responsibility for any wrongdoing.
The four-member internal committee of engineers set up by the water resources department on Wednesday will be headed by RV Panse, chief engineer with Hydro power projects and Quality Control cell, Pune. While probing all 189 projects cleared from 2003 to 2013, the panel will specifically investigate the 66 projects where work had not yet started to see whether clearances were granted in line with existing economic, hydrological and environmental norms.
The inquiry has been set up on the interim directions of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay high court in a public interest litigation filed by Pradeep Purandare, retired associate professor from the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI).
The committee will specifically probe tender violations with regards to two projects, Kikwi in Nashik and Kanchanpur in Akola, cleared when NCP leader Ajit Pawar was water resources minister just before the 2009 Assembly polls.
The court in its December order observed that tenders for the Kikwi project, estimated to cost Rs500 crore now, were issued more than a month before it got sanction from the government on August 26, 2009. The tenders for the project were handed over in four days after this on August 30.
The Kanchanpura project got government sanction on the same day that tenders were issued for it on June 26, 2009. The work order for the project was issued within five days but this was even before the project design was finalised.
Pawar is facing serious allegations in the scam and water resources minister Girish Mahajan had recently indicated action against him and his colleague Sunil Tatkare by the month-end.
The panel will also investigate projects wherein mobilisation advances were paid to contractors even though no work had started on the projects. The PIL had pointed to several such projects including Wasni medium irrigation project, where the contractor was paid Rs243 crore as advance even though no work had started on it. The panel has also been asked to study reasons why projects were cleared in violation of the existing laws.
The court order had pointed to 66 projects where work had not started due to lack of environment clearances, protests of farmers, asking the government to review them and only go ahead with those where all norms were met.