he Maharashtra Irrigation Scam was one such issue that turned the tables of power. This so-called government scam 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 the various projects. Vijay Pandhare, an engineer employed by the government claimed that more than half the amount had been pocketed by corrupt political leaders. The Maharashtra Government rejected the allegations and it released a whitepaper, stating that there was a 28% rise in the irrigation potential, giving a clean chit to its ministers. The Nationalist Congress Party (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. In December 2009, local media carried a series of articles, accusing Pawar of awarding two projects worth Rs 1,385 crore to the builder-cum-contractor named Avinash Bhonsle, at an inflated cost. In November 2010, Pawar handed over the Irrigation Department to the fellow NCP leader Sunil Tatkare. He also appointed two inquiry committees, which found several financial irregularities. Pawar went on to become the Deputy Chief Minister in December 2010. The media continued to highlight the irregularities in the irrigation projects over the next year. In 2012, the State’s economic survey mentioned that the irrigation potential had grown by just 0.1% in the past decade, leading to criticism by the Opposition. Well the politics was played big time, politicians got scot free but other counter parts got in trap.
Taking the investigation forward in the irrigation scam, the Anti-Corruption Bureau registered case of cheating, forgery and criminal misconduct against five members of the Khatri family, Fateh Mohamed Abdullah Khatri, Nisar Fateh Mohamed Khatri, Jaitun Fateh Mohamed Khatri, Abid Fateh Mohamed Khatri and Jahid Fateh Mohamed Khatri. And against those who were all executive engineers in an irrigation project, and also against some unidentified Mantralaya employees. There was a circular issued by the government in 2001 which stated that a single contractor can’t get more than three projects. ACB claimed that their investigation exposed that in 2006 FA Constructions, which is owned by the Khatris, carried out six projects. Three of the partners in FA Constructions even floated a new firm in 2006 — FA Enterprises — to bag new contracts 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. ACB further alleged that Anilkumar Gaikwad, then the executive engineer with PWD, had helped the accused get the certificate by breaking rules. They booked Gaikwad under the Prevention of Corruption Act for criminal misconduct and with this the nonstop media trails began. Media took every liberty to tarnish the image of engineer, 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 nowhere found. Hence, the ACB booked unknown officials from Mantralaya for destroying evidence. The certificate was issued while senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal was the PWD minister. Bhujbal was already facing action in connection with the alleged irregularities in the Maharashtra Sadan construction and other projects in the state, later on he was bailed out due to lack of evidences against him. Well, when nothing concluded in investigations the ACB came up with new statement to media stating that the Anil Kumar Gaikwad alone could not have facilitated the issuing of the certificate as well as the subsequent cover up, and the possibility of the association of higher ranking bureaucrats, including those at ministerial level, is being investigated. They included Mantralaya staff responsible for maintenance of files as co-accused in the case, although no one has been named as yet.
The case went on for five long years from September 2015, to till this month. ACB tried its level best to find the threads and establish case. Then the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who won elections in Maharashtra on so called expose of irrigation scam with his social worker friend, lost his credibility as the investigation were conducted one by one and no substantial claimed was established. This so-called scam was used for political gains and later on took insensitive twist. In 2019, again government changed, Fadanvis became now opposition leader but his aggression on irrigation scam tamed down. Not only that but the greed for Fadanvis joined hands with Ajit Pawar on 23 November, 2019 and both made few hours government with the help of each other. The very own narrative of Devendra about irrigation scam and calling Ajit Pawar a corrupt leader got diluted. In politics, irrigation scam took back seat but all those unwantedly got involved in the case were making rounds to court for hearings.
Finally, on 20 May, 2020, the Bombay High Court discharges Anilkumar Gaikwad in charges of graft. The anti-corruption bureau (ACB) had booked Anil Kumar Gaikwad along with the partners of FA Enterprises, Fateh Mohammed Khatri, and his sons Nisar, Jaitun, Aabid, and Jahid, however, overruled the special court order on the ground of lack of evidence against Anilkumar Gaikwad and others. Well the case ends here but ACB needs to answer many questions to come clean in their operations.
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