Mumbai: An enquiry has been ordered against 45 senior officials of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Council (VIDC) in connection with the multi-crore irrigation scam, sources said on Sunday. The sources added that the 45 included the ex-director of the VIDC, DP Shirkhe.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and nephew of party chief Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar resigned late last month after being charged with giving clearances to as many as 32 irrigation projects without the go-ahead of the VIDC. The surprise move came 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, 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 VIDC.
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 showed that the files were signed by only Ajit Pawar and the then executive director of the VIDC, Shirke. Ajit Pawar found support in his uncle who questioned how quick clearances to projects can be construed as irregularity.
Ajit Pawar now faces even 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 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".