Maharashtra corruption check: Balganga dam case stuck, while accused travel the world
The anti-corruption bureau’s (ACB) probe into the Balganga dam case is an indication of how the ruling government’s investigations into the multi-crore irrigation scam are heading nowhere.
Three years after the ACB filed a 30,000-page charge sheet in August 2016, the trial against the accused has not inched ahead. In the meanwhile, the contractor, who stands accused in Balganga as well as the two other Konkan dam cases, has been successful in defreezing a majority of his bank accounts. Another prime accused, a former superintendent engineer with Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), has got exemptions to travel the globe from Europe to Maldives.
The last nine orders, examined by HT, issued in the special case filed by the ACB in the Thane district and sessions court, exposes the extent of the slow pace. “There has been no action in the irrigation scam case. In the past five years, in Konkan, only two charge sheets and one FIR has been filed. But 13 projects were to be investigated. The orders show that suspended officials had a good time and the contractor managed to defreeze his accounts with the state backing this,’’ said social activist Anjali Damania, who exposed the Konkan irrigation scam.
Former superintendent engineer with Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC) RD Shinde, accused in the Balganga dam probe, got exemptions from the court to travel abroad through four orders issued by the additional sessions judge. The orders – January 10, 2017; December 12, 2017; March 23, 2018 and February 2, 2019 – show that Shinde sought exemption to travel to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Greece, Canada and Europe (Belgium, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rome etc).
Similarly, another accused former executive engineer with KIDC, Anand Kalukhe, was granted exemption to tour Europe through an order in February 2019. In each case for the past two years, these exemptions were granted as the investigation agency said the matter was not ready for trial yet and charge was yet to be framed against the accused.
Similarly, other four orders given in the case pertain to application moved by the contractor, FA Infrastructure, to defreeze accounts frozen by the ACB during the course of the inquiry. The ACB had initially frozen 536 accounts of FA Enterprises, having a total of Rs 473.58 crore. The state government, after conducting an inquiry, had defreezed around 262 accounts having Rs 206 crore.
Through two other orders (January 12, 2017 and July, 1, 2017) in the court, the contractor succeeded in defreezing another Rs 120.46 crore of the remaining Rs 263 crore and then another Rs 25.86 crore were removed.
The defreezing was allowed as the state said it had no objection though inquiry in another nine projects is supposed to be underway, where the same contractor was given most of the tender works.
The logic for defreezing the accounts is that the total loss pegged by the government in the scam is Rs 120 crore (Rs 92 crore in Balganga dam and Rs 30 crore in Kalu dam), said a senior ACB official.
The order clarifies the state sought undertaking from the contractor that they would redeposit the amount if they were found to have siphoned off money in other projects that are under probe.
The Balganga dam blew the lid off the irrigation scam in Konkan. This project was given to a favoured contractor in haste without any environment or forest clearance by fudging the tender process and in violation of all norms. The project was also granted a 40% cost escalation to Rs 488 crore from Rs 353 crore and later the project cost was hiked at the instance of the contractor by 150% to Rs 1220 crore. The ACB charge sheeted 10 people in the dam probe, including six KIDC officials. The charge sheet also named former water resources minister Ajit Pawar, but said his role was yet to be investigated.