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Given ‘clean chit’ to Pawar, ‘Punters’ harassed in irrigation scam

The Maharashtra Irrigation Scam was an alleged government racket which involved financial irregularities of Rs. 35,000 crore in Maharashtra during 1999-2009. The allegations of corruption were made after a 2012 Economic Survey stated that the state’s irrigation potential had increased by only 0.1% during the past decade, even after Rs. 70,000 crore had been spent on various projects. Vijay Pandhare, an engineer employed by the government claimed that more than half the amount had been pocketed by corrupt leaders. The then Maharashtra Government had rejected the allegations, stating that the 0.1% increase considered only “well irrigation” and did not take into account other projects. It released a whitepaper, stating that there was a 28% rise in the irrigation potential, giving a clean chit to its ministers. The media continued to highlight the irregularities in the irrigation projects over the next year.

NCP leader Ajit Pawar was the irrigation minister of Maharashtra during 1999-2009. On 25 April 2008, Deputy Secretary TN Munde issued a circular stating that the Irrigation Department was making exorbitant payments for the various raw materials and components, instead of following the scheduled rates fixed by the department. On 14th May 2008, Pawar’s office issued a letter asking Munde to repeal the circular, and cautioned him against issuing any circular without the minister’s sanction.

In February 2012, the Chief Engineer Vijay Pandhare, wrote a letter to the state’s then Governor, the Chief Minister and the Irrigation Department’s principal secretary, complaining about rampant corruption in the department. After he was asked to provide details, he wrote a 15-page letter dated May 05, 2012 and detailed the nexus between politicians and contractors. He highlighted specific instances of corruption including cost escalations, unnecessary additions to the project scope and poor-quality construction. Pandhare accused Ajit Pawar of being directly involved in the scam. Then the Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council and the Bharatiya Janata Party MLC Vinod Tawde alleged that 5-7% of the total tender cost was paid in kickbacks to a person named “M” (allegedly Ajit Pawar).

Amid allegations of corruption, Ajit Pawar resigned on 25 September, 2012. In October, Ashish Khetan, then the reporter with the Tehelka magazine and now Aam Aadmi Party leader, alleged that Pawar changed the administrative processes to handle the files pertaining to the new projects, overruled the officers who flagged the violations, ensured advance payments to the contractors, overlooked delays and accepted poor-quality work.

NCP’s MLCs Sandeep Bajoriya and Satish Chauhan were among the contractors who were awarded the controversial contracts. The Nagpur-based businessman Ajay Sancheti, who later became a BJP Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP), also got irrigation contracts worth more than Rs. 3,000 crores. Pune-based Soma Enterprises (run by Avinash Bhonsale) and the Mumbai- based FA Constructions (run by Fateh Mohammed Khatri and his son Nisar Khatri) were also accused in this scam. An irrigation contractor has revealed how bribes were paid to bag dam contracts. From the low grade clerk to the politician, a percentage of the project cost had been offered as kickbacks in order to procure the work order. According to him, the total cut amounts were over 22% of the tender cost.

Thereafter in a fresh twist to investigations, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has accused a controversial irrigation contractor of evading government levy worth crores and also blamed government officials for facilitating the evasion. The CAG has found that FA Enterprises, who was awarded a contract to build a dam over the Balganga River in Raigad, had underpaid the royalty it was entitled to for excavation of the sand used for the project to the tune of Rs. 3.44 crore. Fateh Mohammed Khatri, Nisar Fateh Mohammed Khatri, Jaitun Fateh Mohammed Khatri, Abid Fateh Mohammed Khatri and Jahid Fateh Mohammed Khatri — were already facing the charge of cheating and misconduct in the dam project, with the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) alleging that the public exchequer was put to a loss of over Rs. 92 crore.

According to a source, these are the same Khatris who paid Rs. 40 lakhs to BJP as a donation by cheques into their account. The cheques were paid to Devendra Fadnavis, though there was no authenticity on this claim. The source further stated that the mediator was Ashish Shelar. When I tried to access the account details, Khatris remained unreachable. My intentions to quote sources here is to make sure that, such high profile case won’t get compromised.

If the authenticity of sources are to believe, than the question arises, if BJP is a party of integrity, why did they accept such huge amount from a builder who is involved in scams? Ajit Pawar, who was the main target, gets a clean chit and all others who were working on government’s instructions are now harassed by the BJP.

Anyway, the district sessions court later on gave judicial custody to the Abid Khatri and his brother Jahid, who were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). The two are the brothers of the key accused Nisar Khatri who was arrested along with a technocrat Rajesh Rithe for the allegedly suspicious transactions in the tendering and the payments received for the construction of the dam. The probe also revealed that the accused were involved in forging documents to acquire a registration certificate from the Public Works Department (PWD) for FA Enterprises. Interestingly, when ACB officers went to the PWD office in Mantralaya to check and verify the documents the firm had submitted for registration, the papers were missing. They later found out that, during renovation work at Mantralaya after the fire incidence, the papers had gone missing. Hence, the ACB booked unknown officials from Mantralaya for destroying evidence. The actual culprits went scot free and those who were working under the instructions of the then government are facing the consequences.

 (Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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