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Sep 25, 2012 at 11:57pm IST

Congress-NCP govt in crisis, Ajit Pawar quits as Deputy CM of Maharashtra

Mumbai: The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government has been plunged into a political crisis with Ajit Pawar, nephew of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, resigning from the post of Deputy Chief Minister over alleged irregularities in awarding contracts for irrigation projects.

Addressing a press conference over his move on Tuesday, the NCP leader said, "I won't hold the post of the Deputy Chief Minister till I get a clean chit."

He further said, "I will go before the people to present my case and prove my innocence. I am still an NCP MLA and will carry out responsibilities."

However, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has refused to accept his resignation right away. Chavan has said that he will take a decision on the issue only after consultations with his ministers from both the Congress as well as the NCP.

Ajit Pawar has resigned after being charged with giving clearances to as many as 32 irrigation projects without the go-ahead of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Council.

Following the resignation of Pawar, who is believed to be the tallest NCP leader in Maharashtra after his uncle Sharad Pawar, other ministers from the party have also offered to quit.

But dismissing all speculations of withdrawal of support, the NCP chief has maintained that the party will continue to be an ally of the Congress both at the centre and in the state.

The surprise move by Ajit Pawar comes just ahead of the tabling of a white paper on irrigation and the beginning of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit into irrigation projects.

CNN-IBN had first reported how close to 8000 irrigation projects were pending, and Rs 70,000 crore were spent on these projects over a decade with only a 0.01 per cent increase in irrigated area. Ajit Pawar had held the irrigation portfolio between 1999 and 2009.

According to the documents with CNN-IBN that seemingly indict Ajit Pawar, in the months leading up the state assembly elections in 2009, then irrigation minister Ajit Pawar gave, what sources say are illegal clearances for as many as 32 projects between June and August.

The green signal was given without mandatory clearance from the governing council of the Vidharbha Irrigation Development Corporation.

The council comprising of chief secretary and officials from the Finance, Planning, Agriculture and Water Resources departments is mandated to deliberate and clear projects.

The documents clearly show the files were signed by only Ajit Pawar and the executive director of the VIDC, DP Shirke.

Ajit Pawar found support in uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who questioned how quick clearances to projects can be construed as irregularity.

However, the Opposition has not been impressed by the move of the NCP leader with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleging that the party is "dramatising" the probe into the scam.

BJP MP Kirit Somaiya said, "If a resignation was necessary, Tatkare and Bhujbal's resignation should have been taken three months earlier and Darda's resignation one month earlier. This is a Congress-NCP drama. The NCP has stalled probes into scams in irrigation, PWD and coal and now dramatising a CBI probe."

Ajit Pawar faces more embarrassing questions. In May 2008, his personal secretary wrote to the Secretary Irrigation directing the bureaucrat to cancel two government resolutions, which stated:

1: No advance to be given to contracts, unless work has begun on the irrigation projects.

2: The second forbid the approval of any cost escalation according to market rates and recommended action against officers clearing such cost increase.

The white paper on irrigation that has brought NCP-Congress relations to breaking point and is slated to be tabled in the Winter Session, some believe, will be an eye wash. But a public interest litigation (PIL) that is being heard by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court and an ongoing CAG audit, could mean it is only the beginning of trouble for Ajit Pawar.

Meanwhile, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel have ruled out any threat to the government either in the state or at the Centre.

Pawar said, "NCP-Congress government will continue. No question arises of taking a different direction. We don't want any instability in Maharashtra, and we will work together."

"We have a role in the state government of Maharashtra. The Congress-NCP government will continue to move forward. We maintain our support, our ministers will continue to serve. There will no disruptions in the workings of the state," said Praful Patel.

The former Union aviation minister, however, termed the development as a result of the persistent campaign against the NCP by "some opponents and some friends".