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Explained: What is irrigation scam and how Ajit Pawar is involved in it?

Ajit Pawar was given clean-chit in irrigation scam two days after he was sworn-in as deputy CM

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on Monday said it closed nine open inquiries in connection with the irrigation scam. This happened two days after Ajit Pawar was sworn in as Deputy CM of Maharashtra.

The ACB denied the accusation of doing this because it wanted to give clean chit to Ajit Pawar as he supported BJP in forming the government, which lasted only 4 days.

How Ajit Pawar is involved in it?

In the previous NCP-congress government, allegations of irregularities surfaced. Ajit Pawar was the Water Resource Minister that time. The allegation also included irregularities in Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) of which he was the chairman. Maharashtra has five such (region-based) Irrigation Development Corporations.

Ajit Pawar hasn’t been named in any of the FIR. But, then-ACB Director General Sanjay Barve had told the Bombay High Court in November 2018 that Ajit Pawar had intervened in the process of award of contracts of irrigation projects. The nine enquiries which were closed were out of open enquiries into 2,654 tenders for 45 VIDC projects. The ACB informed that it completed inquiries into 212 tenders and registered 24 FIRs. The ACB also filed chargesheets in five cases.

What was the whole allegation?

Maharashtra Water Resources Department had created irrigation potential of 48.26 lakh hectares as of June 2011 through 3712 completed and ongoing projects. As of June 2012, Irrigation potential utilized was only 32.51 lakh hectares which are 67.36% of the total.

Various reports of CAG – Comptroller and Auditor General of India highlighted the absence of long-term plans, delays in completion, non- prioritization of projects, and commencement of work without clearances of environment/forest on Water Resources Department Projects.

Who was the first person to highlight alleged irregularities?

Vijay Pandhare, former Irrigation Department engineer and then chief engineer of the Maharashtra Engineering Training Academy wrote to then CM of Maharashtra Prithvi Raj Chauhan and K Sankaranarayanan. The letter included recommendation of CBI investigation into inflated cost estimates and other irregularities in dam-building contracts handed out by different Irrigation Development Corporations. Pandhare, the first whistleblower in the case was given police protection. Then deputy CM Ajit Pawar resigned as detailed emerged in the irregularities in multiple contracts. Anjali Damania and Pravin Wategaonkar are two other activists who flagged regularities.

Read more: Maharashtra Government Crisis: SC orders for floor test tomorrow at 5 pm

How did the government respond?

Pandhare’s first letter in Feb 2012 revealed the early details. The annual Economic Survey report tabled in the Assembly in March 2012 said that department had spent about Rs 70,000 crore in 10 years on dam projects that had added just 0.1% to the area under irrigation.

Then-CM Prithviraj Chavan appeared to support the demands of the opposition for a probe. He ordered a white paper to be prepared in August 2012. He quit the Cabinet in September and then returned in December after the white paper was prepared. The Congress-NCP government constituted an SIT chaired by Madhav Chitale, former Union Water Resources Secretary after opposition insisted on an impartial probe. The SIT report was tabled in the assembly in June 2014. The report gave a clean chit to Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, then Water Resource Minister and instead blamed top officials. It said that the irrigation potential grew by 20 percent not by 0.1 percent over a decade.

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