Will the probe into the irrigation scam by a special investigation team to be headed by water expert Dr Madhav Chitale bring those responsible for the wrongdoing to the fore? Will the SIT initiate criminal proceedings against those found guilty?
While these questions are unanswered at present, the key factors in the investigation would be the scope of inquiry, members and the powers given to the SIT.
“The scope of the inquiry is not yet clear. Whether the investigation will touch upon the decision-making process that kicked up the controversy, cost escalations and government’s achievements after spending over Rs 42,000 crore on irrigation in 10 years, remains to be seen. But, if the SIT does not get the power to do so, the probe would be meaningless,” said a top state government official.
“If the SIT is not granted powers akin to a civil court, under which it can summon witnesses and hold public hearings, it will fail to address all aspects of the irrigation scam,’’ said Indavi Tulpule, social activist, who has been fighting for dam-affected persons in the state.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and its deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who headed the irrigation department for nearly a decade, seem to have taken a calculated risk by opting for a probe by a team of experts. Sources said that one of the reasons to agree to the SIT was to avoid a judicial probe similar to the Adarsh commission.
“If a judicial probe had been announced, Pawar could have landed in trouble. Also, the judicial probe would come under the chief minister’s purview while the SIT is under the water resources department,” said a senior minister.
The choice of Dr Chitale, a former water resources secretary of the central government and former head of the central water commission, also seems well-strategised. A renowned expert on the subject, the government favoured him owing to his knowledge of irrigation laws and the practical difficulties in the implementation of the projects, an excuse cited to justify the cost escalation by the NCP. Known for his clean record, Chitale is unlikely to cover up for any wrongdoing.
The NCP’s present strategy is to buy time and to show the courts that the government is acting on the allegations of corruption in the irrigation sector. It is also trying to keep the pressure on the main Opposition party — the BJP — by including the projects built under its rule in the state between 1995 and 1999. BJP leaders Gopinath Munde and Eknath Khadse were heading the irrigation department during this period.
While chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has managed to put pressure on the NCP to agree to a probe into the decisions taken by Ajit Pawar, he did give in to their demand for an SIT probe. He could still play a crucial role in setting the terms of reference for the committee and selection of SIT members to ensure that probe is impartial.