The Maharashtra Government allocated Rs. 8, 233 crore for various irrigation projects for farmers during the budget presentation. Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar started his budget speech in the assembly, while the opposition members protested with banners. The Speaker requested the opposition to walk out as they were disturbing the proceeding. Somehow budget was presented with finance minister making many announcements. For farmers, Rs. 8,233 crores has been allocated for water resources and Rs. 2,812 crore has been allotted for Prime Minister’s irrigation scheme proposed for the year 2017-18. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said earlier that the government is willing to allocate financial resources along with the Centre to help 31 lakh farmers reeling under debt of Rs. 30,500 crore.
All said and done but, Maharashtra irrigation scam which was election agenda of Devendra Fadanvis is still in cold storage and it is compromised by the leader himself. BJP government had shielded contractors and politicians involved in the multi-crore irrigation scam. Allegations that the BJP had levelled against NCP ministers Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, both former irrigation ministers, had stuck eventually forcing the previous government to constitute the Madhav Chitale committee. Fadnavis government is pushing the multi-crore scam under the carpet to shield errant contractors affiliated to the BJP. There are hundreds of contractors who are working for Government of Maharashtra most of them all spared from scam cases and one Muslim contractor is been harassed and caught in the scam. His bank account got seized, he is been dragged to various authorities including Anti-Corruption Bureau. He went pin to polls making his stand clear; somehow court gave him some breathing space but CM of Maharashtra deliberately ignored the fact that there is nothing against the contractor to prove that entangling him in political vendetta.
The Nationalist Congress Party, whose leader Ajit Pawar then sanctioned many of the projects, has called the move a ‘politically motivated exercise’. The Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party cancelled at least 94 irrigation projects in the state worth around Rs 6,000 crore. The projects were cancelled because of the state Anti-Corruption Bureau’s ongoing investigation into irregularities and several of them, are which sanctioned by former state Water Resources Minister. The state government has claimed the move to be part of its campaign against corruption. However, the cancellations were a “politically motivated exercise”. Is ACB working for its political masters? If not then why Fadnavis government has remained quiet on the matter? Why there is no action or arrest or any expose in this entire issue?
Pawar, who has come under scrutiny for his alleged role in the scam, had approved projects worth Rs. 20,000 crore in 2009, without seeking the clearance of the Governing Council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation. The case was first reported in 2012 after then-chief engineer in the water resources department Vijay Pandhare wrote letters detailing irregularities and cost variations in the project to the state government and governor. Pawar, who resigned because of the ensuing scandal, was later re-inducted into the state Cabinet after the state government cleared him of all charges. During this period, every tender worth more than Rs. 1 crore was awarded on Pawar’s signature. Pawar twisted the administrative processes and ensured that he directly handled every file pertaining to new projects. Pawar overruled his officers who flagged the flagrant violations of government rules and regulations. Pawar dismissed the departmental circulars that prohibited the payment of advance money to private contractors. He thus ensured that hundreds of crores of rupees was paid in advance to the contractors even before any work had started.
On Pawar’s instructions, the contractors were paid for construction materials at exorbitant rates instead of the scheduled rates fixed by the department. Pawar and VIDC Executive Director DP Shirke escalated the cost of 32 projects by more than Rs. 17,000 crore. In doing so, the duo bypassed the irrigation secretary as well as the governing council. All approvals carry Pawar’s signatures. Pawar overlooked inordinate delays in project completion and shoddy construction work. He sidelined upright officers who objected to the corruption and protected those who profited from the loot. Nagpur-based businessman Ajay Sancheti, who is now a BJP Rajya Sabha MP and also a member of the party’s National Executive Committee, has got irrigation contracts worth more than Rs. 3,000 crore. Three other contractors, who have been the major beneficiaries of the scam, are now members of the Maharashtra Legislative Council. The evidence of Pawar’s culpability is mounting by the day. TEHELKA has internal file notings, which show that Pawar overruled his officers who objected to the huge sums of advance paid to contractors in brazen violation of the established rules and procedures. Pawar even cautioned his officers from raising such objections in the future.
Most of the contracts were awarded without any budgetary planning. For instance, in the Lower Penganga project in Yavatmal district, tenders worth Rs. 3,200 crore were awarded when the total budget for the project was only Rs. 100 crore at the time.
Between 2009-12, a whopping Rs. 70,000 crore was spent on different irrigation projects. The 2012 State Economic Survey shows that the area under irrigation has enhanced by just 0.1 per cent in the past decade — the lowest growth rate in the country. Nearly 1,200 irrigation projects have been in limbo for years, and in some cases, several decades. Lakhs of farmers, for whom these canals and dams were supposed to be built, are still dependent on the monsoons for irrigation purposes. While old projects were not completed citing lack of funds, Ajit Pawar kept launching new projects and sanctioned funds for the same. Pawar launched 141 projects in 2007 and 83 in 2008. Ninety-five per cent of them have not been completed. Most of the projects were carved up between a handful of contractors. Three of them are now MLCs belonging to either the BJP or the NCP. A decade ago, all three started off as small-time contractors. Today, they are billionaires. Today, Ajay Sancheti has business interests across many states, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In August 2009, six tenders worth Rs. 3,200 crore were awarded under the Lower Penganga project to companies controlled by BJP MP Ajay Sancheti, NCP MLC Sandeep Bajoriya, NCP MLC Satish Chauhan and a heavyweight contractor named Nisar Khatri. A committee headed by former Irrigation Department Principal Secretary NK Vadnare found that the tender cost was escalated in blatant violation of government rules and regulations. The report was submitted in June 2010. No action has been taken till date. No minister was arrested; Tatkare and Pawar are enjoying their life. 99% contactors enjoying some or the other post under BJP cover, nothing concrete happened in this case. Now this year, there are new announcements and fresh work contractors. When these scams will end?
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