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Maharashtra begins probe into claims of irregularities in Fadnavis‘s pet project

The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has initiated an open probe by the police and an administrative inquiry into alleged irregularities in the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (JSA), a flagship water conservation project of the previous Devendra Fadnavis government
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 21, 2021 11:54 PM IST

The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has initiated an open probe by the police and an administrative inquiry into alleged irregularities in the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (JSA), a flagship water conservation project of the previous Devendra Fadnavis government. A state-appointed panel under a retired senior bureaucrat, in a preliminary investigation, pointed out several irregularities in JSA and recommended action. After it submitted a report in May, the state recently ordered the inquiries into the irregularities in around 1,000 of the total 1,728 works.

The water conservation project, touted as a solution to the water shortage problem of rural areas, was a pet project of Fadnavis.

The government has so far spent 9,634 crore on it.

The committee has set the criterion according to which the district administrations can take action in irregularities. An open inquiry has been recommended in case of the irregularities related to tendering process, submission of wrong information, no actual execution on ground despite payment to contractors while in case of procedural lapses and irregularities, departmental inquiry has been recommended. Open inquiry will be conducted by the police or the anti-corruption bureau, said an official.

Nand Kumar, additional chief secretary, soil and water conservation department of state government, said, “We received the report in May, after which the orders for the action have been given after studying it. The probe will be two-fold, the cases with the irregularities will have open inquiry, while the departmental lapses will be probed through departmental inquiry. The district collectorates of the respective districts will conduct the probe.”

The committee looked into 600-odd complaints received by the government from across the state and 1,128 cases from 120 villages in six districts (Solapur, Palghar, Ahmednagar, Buldhana, Beed and Nagpur) referred in by the CAG. Of the 1,728 cases, the committee visited a few projects in three districts and found the irregularities. As per the scrutiny by the department, about 900 cases can attract open inquiry, while 100 may see administrative probe. It submitted its 70-page report in the first week of May, after which the state government has decided to take action as recommended by the committee. Besides the 1,728 cases, the district administrations will be free to probe other cases in the given criterion if they feel so.

According to information, the committee has found that in many cases, tendering norms were not followed, wrong information was submitted about the implementation of the project, while in some projects the expected results were not achieved. Some of them could not complete the work in stipulated time, while some others failed to adhere to technical compliances.

The four-member committee headed by retired additional chief secretary Bijay Kumar was constituted on December 1 after the state cabinet decided probe the allegations of irregularities in the project. The project was implemented in 22,589 villages with 6.41 lakh works were undertaken between December 2014 and March 2020. State government spent Rs9,634 crore on the project and implemented 98% of works were completed, in which Comptroller and Auditor General of India found holes after inspecting 1,128 works allotted and concluded that it failed to achieve its aim. The report was tabled in state legislature on September 8, while state cabinet decided to conduct an inquiry on October 14.

“The committee has not identified the number of cases in which the irregularities have found as it was almost impossible to visit every work complained about. The committee visited number of villages in three districts, held meetings with the officials and met the complainants. The committee has found administration irregularities, lapses and irregularities in tendering process and execution of the projects. The district-level authorities will have to take a call on the type of inquiries. The open inquiries can be conducted by local police or the anti-corruption bureau (ACB),” said an official from the water conservation department.

Bijay Kumar said, “The report has been submitted in May before I joined MAT. It’s now up to the government to take a call on it.”

Ram Shinde, former water conservation minister and BJP leader, said, “This has been one of the best projects implemented after the independence to make villages water neutral. The project reduced the water scarcity in hundreds of villages. The inquiry is nothing, but the vendetta politics by the MVA government.”

The CAG report has rapped the previous Fadnavis government for its failure in implementation of JSA envisaged to make villages in Maharashtra drought-free. Besides the deficiencies in planning and lack of provision of adequate funds for maintenance of the works, JSA failed to achieve water neutrality in drought-prone villages and increase the ground water level as intended, the report had stated. The report had stated that even after spending 9,634 crore, the Abhiyan had little impact in drought-prone districts, which ended deploying more tankers than in the past.

Shinde also added, ““Bijay Kumar was heading the agriculture department between September 2016 and August 2018 and 75% of the implementation of the JSA was done during that period. The department was closely associated with the JSA. Now the question remains is why did the officer did not object to the irregularities at that time itself. Secondly, the irregularities have been found in just 650 of the total 6.5 lakh works undertaken, which means the percentage of works with so-called irregularities is 0.1%, which is negligible if its mammoth size is taken into consideration.

The committee was asked to check which cases mentioned in the CAG report need to be probed by open inquiry and in which case, the departmental inquiry needs to be done. It was also mandated to check the type of inquiry needed to be done in 600 complaints received by the government.

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