Vidarbha irrigation scam: Bombay HC adjourns hearing in PIL for central probe till Jan
ACB, in its affidavits submitted to the high court in November, had ruled out the involvement of the Nationalist Congress Party’s Ajit Pawar, who was then chairperson of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), in the scam.Updated: Dec 16, 2019 15:04 IST
The Bombay High Court on Monday adjourned the hearing to January in a plea demanding a central probe into the multi-crore Vidarbha irrigation scam and opposing the Maharashtra anti-corruption bureau’s (ACB’s) clearance to NCP leader Ajit Pawar.
ACB, in its affidavits submitted to the high court in November, had ruled out the involvement of the Nationalist Congress Party’s Ajit Pawar, who was then chairperson of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), in the scam.
The affidavit pertains to several allegations against Pawar, who was the minister of water resources between 1999 and 2009, including that of escalating costs in 32 irrigation projects in Vidarbha by Rs 17,700 crore within three months.
The allegations had been a political issue in the run-up to the state elections in 2014. In all, the irrigation scam involves 44 projects spread over Vidarbha and the Konkans and has till now led to 23 FIRs and five chargesheets.
The affidavits were filed in Bombay high court on November 27 in the middle of a tug-of-war for power between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a coalition of opposition parties including Pawar’s NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena.
The petitioners, Atul Jagtap and his NGO Janmanch, had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) last week before the Nagpur bench of the high court seeking transfer of probe into the scam to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) expressing lack of faith in ACB given “its dismal track record” in probing the scam.
A division bench of the Bombay high court, comprising Justice ZA Haq and Justice Murlidhar Giratkar, granted time to petitioners and respondents including VIDC, Ajit Pawar and ex-MLC Sandip Bajoria, to file a reply, if they wish to. It also made it clear that no adjournment would be granted on January 15.
Responding to repeated requests from lawyers Shridhar Purohit and Firdos Mirza, appearing for the petitioners, to read ACB’s affidavits granting the clearance, the high court stated that it will hear the matter on January 15.
To the demand to hand over the probe to CBI and ED, the high court asked them to file a proper application and observed that it doesn’t want to pass an order which would meet the same fate.
“It will be an exercise in futility after six months,” it observed while refusing to pass any order without proper and a detailed hearing.
The petitioners cited that the latest affidavits filed by unit heads of Nagpur and Amravati ACB on November 27 were in sharp contrast and inconsistent with the stand of the bureau by its then DG Sanjay Barve on November 28, 2018, unambiguously while clearly hinting towards Ajit Pawar as the “dramatis personae” in the entire scam.
Barve had accused Pawar of presiding over a regime in which “procedures were bypassed, pecuniary benefits were passed on, and sub-standard work allowed leading to drain upon public exchequer.”
But the latest affidavit, the petitioner said, found no evidence about Pawar’s role in cost updating or mobilisation advance or any evidence of money trail and dismissed all allegations him as mere procedural irregularities, departmental lapses and deviations from some process for which the water resource department minister cannot be held responsible.
Petitioners urged the high court to direct the bureau to file an affidavit sworn in by a director-general ranked officer and urged to reject the affidavits filed by field unit heads.
Questioning this disturbing contradiction and timing of the affidavit when there was no elected government in place, Jagtap in his application had slammed ACB for rushing with a clean chit to Pawar ignoring massive evidence available everywhere.
“This is a desperate attempt to exonerate the real culprit while passing the blame insubordinate officers and field level engineers,” the petitioner claimed.
He also said that the affidavit has clearly revealed that ACB probe was not conducted in the right direction and apparently influences by extraneous factors.
According to the petitioner, ACB was trying to hush up the probe and bury the scam by filing such questionable affidavits and demanded its rejection and transfer of investigation to some independent probe agency like ED or CBI.