Vidarbha irrigation scam: One agency, two conflicting affidavits and a clean chit to Ajit Pawar
While both affidavits were filed at different stages of the inquiry process, they fundamentally seek to address central accusations against Pawar.Updated: Dec 07, 2019 21:59 IST
Over the past year, the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) stance over former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s role in the multi-crore irrigation scam in Maharashtra has taken a 180-degree turn. From blaming – although not indicting – Pawar for being part of a modus operandi that defrauded the state exchequer to stating that the former minister acted as per prevailing policy and hence cannot be held responsible for wrongdoing, the ACB’s two affidavits, filed in November 2018 and November 2019, are in stark contrast to one another.
While both affidavits were filed at different stages of the inquiry process, they fundamentally seek to address central accusations against Pawar. Both the affidavits scrutinised Pawar’s role on the basis two main allegations – granting cost escalations to irrigation tenders in violation of norms and handing out mobilisation advances to contractors.
HT reported on Thursday that the ACB gave a clean chit to Pawar through its recent affidavit filed before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court, which is hearing a clutch of petitions in the irrigation scam.
When the scam in Vidarbha was exposed, the main accusation against Pawar was that he granted cost escalations to 32 irrigation projects worth Rs 17,700 crore within three months. All these projects have not been investigated, but ACB’s recent affidavit states that the minister cannot be held responsible as per Rule 14 of the Maharashtra government Rules of Business, which says that the responsibility of following norms lies with the secretary of the department. This is in line with Pawar’s own defence, which he had mounted during ACB questioning.
The affidavit, however, skips Rule 10 – mentioned in the 2018 affidavit – which says a minister is overall in charge of a department and responsible for disposal of all its business.
“It is clear that the latest affidavit has been filed in great haste, without much application of mind and contradicts the agency’s clear stance last year,” said Sharad Patil, one of the petitioners representing the NGO Jan Manch.
Some of the specific charges made against Pawar in the last affidavit have also been ignored. For instance, Pawar had issued written directives that to speed up projects in Vidarbha, proposals should be directly mooted through the executive director and hence they were not scrutinised by the secretary of the department.
“All note sheets of the projects have signatures of Pawar [Ajit]. Majority don’t have the secretary’s signature, as he had been conveniently kept out. It’s a very blatant cover-up. What’s the status on the investigation of money trails; nothing has been done on that front,” said activist Anjali Damania.
For the ACB, however, the blame stands with the executive director of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), who the agency claims was an official on par with the secretary, and hence responsible for adhering to norms. Similarly, on the issue of mobilisation advances, the two affidavits have taken diametrically opposite stances. The 2019 affidavit states that mobilisation advances did not lead to loss to the government as the contractors returned the advances. However, last year, the then ACB chief Sanjay Barve had pointed out that the mobilisation advances were given in contravention of norms to give a pecuniary benefit to a contractor, who had been selected through a rigged tendering process. Barve had said although the advances had returned, the advantage was given to a favoured contractor.
The latest affidavit also doesn’t mention that Pawar had annulled a circular of the department in 2008 that said provision of granting mobilisation advance should not be made in any tender.
While an ACB official, who did not want to be named, said the clean chit is not across the scam, but pertains to some of the projects investigated, the affidavit filed seeks a disposal of the petition. Rashmi Nandedkar, superintendent of police, ACB, Nagpur, who has signed the affidavit, said she did not want to comment on the matter for now.