ACB missed crucial info in giving clean chit to Ajit Pawar in Vidarbha irrigation probe
In giving the clean chit, however, the ACB, among other things, has missed a crucial piece of information — direct interference of the then minister in bypassing existing norms for determining the cost escalation methodology of a project and in granting mobilisation advances (MA) to contractors.Updated: Dec 09, 2019 07:54 IST
The clean chit given by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in the Vidarbha irrigation scam through its two latest affidavits filed before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) seems to be largely based on a premise that the minister’s role was that of a ‘signing authority’.
The affidavits, filed by Nagpur and Amravati ACB units, said the final responsibility rested with the secretary of the water resources department and the executive director of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), as they were responsible for “careful observance of rules’’.
Rashmi Nandedkar, superintendent of police, Nagpur ACB, told HT that she did not want to comment on the affidavit now as she was travelling.
In giving the clean chit, however, the ACB, among other things, has missed a crucial piece of information — direct interference of the then minister in bypassing existing norms for determining the cost escalation methodology of a project and in granting mobilisation advances (MA) to contractors.
One of the main allegations against Pawar in the scam, according to the petitioners, is that he hiked costs of irrigation projects in contravention of norms, besides sanctioning mobilisation advances.
Existing documents with the petitioners, submitted to the ACB, showed that minister intervened by annulling two circulars in 2008 – April 16 and April 25 — issued by the water resources department’s deputy secretary, which asked officials to follow existing norms.
The ACB’s first affidavit filed on November 26, 2018, by then chief Sanjay Barve has made reference to this.
The April 16 circular pointed out that there is no provision to give mobilisation advance in tenders as was clearly mentioned in an earlier December 2000 resolution, but this was not being followed.
“Those officials who include mobilisation advances in the tenders and those who grant them in violation of this circular will face disciplinary action’’, said the circular
The April 25 circular pointed out that the water resources officials were hiking tender costs by wrongly applying prevailing market rates of construction material as against rate lists issued by the department and also threatened action against erring officials.
Pawar sought to annul these circulars through a note issued by his private secretary Suresh Jadhav dated May 14, 2008. Jadhav’s note said: It has come to the notice of the minister that department is issuing circulars without his approval. As such, these two circulars must be immediately cancelled.
The department officials, however, did not buckle down and sent a detailed note dated May 16 defending those two circulars, stating both reiterated existing norms and rules of the department. The note said it would be improper to annul these circulars.
Pawar responded to this note by issuing directives defending use of prevailing market rates, while updating tender costs given the high prices of cement and steel in the market. His note on June 12 also said that under existing procedure, all tenders would have to be sent to the committee led by the finance secretary for scrutiny and this would further delay projects and their costs.
On July 25, 2008, both these circulars were cancelled.
“These documents have been submitted to the ACB and to the court. The first affidavit made note of it, the second has ignored evidence in front of it. The tender costs were updated after the contractor was finalised so as to come within 5% of that bid, to avoid scrutiny by senior officials. Mobilisation advance was granted in contravention of norms, not to increase competition, but to favour a particular contractor,’’ said Sharad Patil from Jan Manch, one of the petitioners.
The Nagpur affidavit, while handing out a clean chit, said: “There are some procedural lapses, departmental irregularities such as sending some files and proposals by ED to chairman VIDC (minister) without routing it to principal secretary, paying of earnest money deposit amount by successful bidders for his competitors in some cases.. The minister cannot be held responsible for acts of executing agencies as there is no legal duty on his part.’’
“Even directions given by the Chairman VIDC (minister) that the files should be routed by the ED directly to chairman to avoid delay in processing, scrutiny are of administrative and procedural nature. These directions do not amount to a criminal act.’’