The state government on Thursday assured the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court that 40 tenders of the Gosikhurd irrigation project in Vidarbha — the biggest dam in the country — under its scanner would be investigated within six months.
The undertaking filed by the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) also listed the 36 tenders –investigation in the remaining four remaining tenders has been completed -- that would be probed along with the name of contractors the projects had been awarded to. The undertaking said that another first information report (FIR) in the multi-crore scam would be filed in the coming week. Each of these 40 tenders is worth more than Rs25 crore.
The court has also asked the state to set up a committee to check the quality of the dams constructed and its financial implications, following a plea from the petitioner, Jan Manch, an organization that has been instrumental in uncovering the Vidarbha irrigation scam. The court asked the state to consider former irrigation engineer and whistle-blower Vijay Pandhare to lead the probe.
If the ACB fast-tracks the investigation, several politically influential irrigation contractors, including the firms associated with BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti and party MLC Mitesh Bhangadia and the D Thakkar group that have a big slice of the Vidarbha irrigation pie, will come under the scanner. The three tenders for which the investigation has been completed include the right bank canal project awarded to SMS Infrastructure, associated with Sancheti; left bank canal project awarded to M/s Bhangadia and co and the Mokhabardi canal project associated with D Thakkar Construction Private Limited. Bhangadia’s son Kiritkumar is also a BJP legislator, who got elected in the 2014 Assembly polls. These contractors won a big chunk of tenders that were awarded between 2006-07 and 2009-10 under the Congress-NCP government, which was in the dock over the alleged irregularities in the irrigation contracts. In some of the projects, Sancheti’s firms had entered into a joint venture with the Thakkar group of firms, S/N Thakkar and D Thakkar Construction Private Limited.
“This is a big push in the right direction. The ACB, in an undertaking, told the court 18 teams of two police officers are currently probing these tenders. We had specifically asked for the probe into the quality of the work done because our review of the projects revealed that most of the work – canals, lining of dams, dam construction –has been very poor. In many cases, the contractors have been paid the entire amount, but the work is incomplete and shoddy,’’ said petitioner Anil Kilore of Jan Manch.
He added that if someone like Pandhare heads the committee, the truth and the entire scope of the dam scam will come to light. Jan Manch had undertaken a fresh drive last year to look into nearly 16 irrigation projects in Vidarbha.
This month, the ACB had filed its first FIR in the Vidarbha scam in the Ghodzari canal project, part of the Gosikhurd project, against five partners of the controversial FA Construction and two officials of the irrigation department. The influential Khatri family that owns FA Constructions is already facing an FIR in Konkan’s Balganga project. This was the first FIR filed over a year after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis cleared an open inquiry against former water resources ministers Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare in the scam.