Irrigation scam: HC rejects application to include Central agencies as respondentsUpdated: Feb 14, 2020 00:17 IST
In a relief to Maharashtra deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) on Thursday rejected an application to include the Union government, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax as respondents to the public interest litigations (PIL) in the multi-crore irrigation scam in Maharashtra.
The application, moved by activist Atul Jagtap, was opposed by Pawar’s counsel, who dubbed it as politically motivated with an oblique motive to transfer the probe to Central agencies with a sole aim to implicate Pawar.
Questioning the tone and tenor of the application, Prasad Dhakephalkar pointed out that over the past four years, various orders have been passed, special investigation teams (SITs) constituted, first information reports (FIRs) registered and charge sheets filed. Suddenly, the petitioners seem to have lost faith in the investigating agency and without rhyme or reason, a demand to change the investigating agency or even the appointment of a commission of enquiry is being made, he stated.
During the course of hearing, the HC sought to know the reasons for including Central agencies as respondents and found no legally sustainable answers. A division bench, comprising justice Ravindra Ghuge and justice Shriram Modak, after a prolonged and patient hearing, turned down the application to include Central agencies as respondents at this juncture.
The bench made it clear that it had powers to issue directions to agencies and they need not be made joined as respondents right now. It refrained from making any comment in its written order about the on-going investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and posted the matter for further hearing on March 13.
The PIL petitioners, including NGO Jan Manch and Jagtap, had slammed the ACB for granting a clean chit to Pawar and demanded the probe to be handed over either to the ED or CBI or to appoint a judicial commission.
The ACB has so far filed charge sheets against Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) officers and contractors, but absolved Pawar, who was the then water resources minister, of any wrongdoing. The ACB had earlier accused Pawar of presiding over a regime in which “procedures were bypassed, pecuniary benefits were passed on, substandard work allowed, leading to a drain upon public exchequer”. But the latest affidavits filed by the Nagpur and Amravati superintendents of police (SPs) of ACB and endorsed by the director-general (DG) of the ACB, Parambir Singh, stated there was no evidence about his role.
The ACB also did not find any evidence of a money trail and dismissed all allegations against Pawar as mere procedural irregularities, departmental lapses and deviations from some process and claimed for these discrepancies, the chairman (WRD minister) cannot be held responsible.
Jan Manch, in its application, had expressed a complete lack of confidence over the impartiality and ability of ACB to probe the irrigation scam and sought the appointment of a commission of enquiry, headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court (SC) or HC judge. Only such an enquiry commission will be able to unearth the truth without getting influenced by any other factor, Jan Manch stated in its application.
Jagtap had demanded the transfer of the irrigation scam probe to ED and the CBI, following the ACB U-turn with respect to Pawar. This is a desperate attempt to exonerate the real culprit, while passing the blame on to subordinate officers and field-level engineers, Jagtap had claimed, while stating that ACB’s affidavit had clearly revealed that probe was not conducted in right direction and apparently influenced by extraneous factors.
Opposing the demand of the petitioners, Dhakephalkar claimed that investigations were monitored by the HC, FIRs were registered, charge sheets were filed and special courts were directed to conduct the trial in a time-bound manner. Demanding enquiry under the Commission of Enquiries Act is a step backwards and petitioners want to prolong the matter, he charged, while terming the demand as untenable