ACB affidavit in multi-crore irrigation scam spells trouble for Maharashtra’s ex-Dy CM Ajit Pawar
While Ajit Pawar has so far not been named in any of the 24 criminal complaints filed in the inquiry into the multi-crore irrigation scam, the ACB affidavit has now made it clear that the agency sees the minister as being part of the overall “modus operandi” in the scam.
The multi-crore irrigation scam could be back to haunt former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, as an affidavit filed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on Tuesday has “spelt out” the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader’s role in the irregularities.
While Pawar has so far not been named in any of the 24 criminal complaints filed in the inquiry, the affidavit – filed by Sanjay Barve, director general of ACB – has now made it clear that the agency sees the minister as being part of the overall “modus operandi” in the scam. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government had initiated an open inquiry against the former minister.
The term “modus operandi” refers to the way tenders for irrigation projects were rigged, cost of projects was hiked, mobilisation advances were given, and forged pre-qualification documents were allowed – all to “favour a clutch of contractors”.
The agency, however, has sought more time to reach a conclusion, as it is currently pursuing leads in the money trail in the scam.
The minister’s role has been probed with specific reference to the Maharashtra Government Rules for Business and Instructions to check whether his actions can be held as culpable. The minister had invoked these rules, as part of his defence, to clarify that his decisions were taken on “the advice of a secretary-level officer or were taken at the field level”.
The affidavit has referred specifically to tenders awarded in two big projects in Vidarbha, Gosikhurd and Jigaon, that the agency is investigating.
“What ACB has observed in the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) inquiry was a clear pattern with sinister similarity of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the government under the garb of subverted and sham procedures and through instrumentality of minions in the department and the VIDC”, states the affidavit.
The affidavit points out that as per rules, the minister is responsible for all matters under his department and the secretary of the department is responsible for careful observance of rules. However, the secretary’s signature was absent on all note sheets, granting project clearances, escalations and mobilisation cost in Vidarbha projects.
“All note sheets pertaining to prior sanction of work commencement order, mobilisation advance were signed by the minister,” states the affidavit.
Pawar could face trouble specifically on two counts that contravened existing rules of business.
The first pertains to handling of mobilisation advance to contractors in Vidarbha’s irrigation projects. In 2008, Pawar’s personal secretary, Suresh Jadhav, wrote to the water resources secretary on April 25, to cancel a circular issued by the department, a month earlier, to not hand out mobilisation advance in irrigation tenders. The department circular was accordingly annulled.
The affidavit states that subsequently, mobilisation advances given to Vidarbha’s irrigation contractors were “in gross contravention of rules” and above the cap of 5 per cent of the tender cost. In the Gosikhurd project, a mobilisation advance of Rs182 crore was given out, while in Jigaon, it was Rs12 crore.
The second is that Pawar in a noting issued by him in 2005 said that in order to speed up projects in Vidarbha, all files should move directly to the executive director of VIDC. As a result, the scrutiny by secretary of the department for projects was skipped.
The ACB has indicated that officers, contractors and the minister are “dramatis personae who put up a performance that cost the state dearly and are now trying to hide behind framework of rules and shift the onus on one another”.