he Maharashtra Irrigation scam was one of the biggest UPA government scams which involved financial irregularities and where the sheer magnitude of the money siphoned off by the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus was staggering. Most of the leaders involved in the scam are the NCP leaders. In February 2012, chief engineer Vijay Pandhare, member of state technical advisory committee, wrote to the former chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan alleging that there was a rampant corruption in the department. The authorities wrote back to Pandhare asking him for concrete evidence to which he replied back with a letter of 15 pages detailing the modus operandi and the specifics of the scam which stated that more than Rs 35,000 crore, which was half the amount of Rs 70,000 crore spent on the irrigation schemes between 1999-2009, were pocketed by the nexus. After a survey, it came to the light that, over a decade, the state irrigation potential had increased only 0.1 per cent. The scam opened a Pandora’s Box.
Between 1999-2009, Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar was the Minister of State Irrigation and during this period, it was evident that he twisted the administrative processes and ensured that he directly handled every file pertaining to new projects. All approved files carried his signatures and his culpability mounted by the day. The list of malpractices by Ajit Pawar in the irrigation sector can roll into pages. But he has categorically denied corruption charges and said that the decisions were taken while keeping the state cabinet in the loop and also the decisions were taken well within the power vested with him as the Irrigation Minister. And as of date, the most dismaying aspect of the scam is that the lakhs of farmers particularly in the Vidharba region, for whom the project was supposed to bring relief from the unending cycles of drought, have still not being provided irrigation facilities.
All the politicians involved in this are happily living their exorbitant life at the price of farmer suicide being the most common thing in Maharashtra. Leaving aside their fake promises of upliftment of peasants, the-so-called-proposed-dams, livestock schemes, Gramin Yojanas amidst inflation, false hoarding of goods, lack of basic education and mechanisation, agricultural marketing and all the other plight faced by poor farmers, the most trivial thing that the government could ensure is that every morsel finds its mouth. Even oppositions were the spectators; there were no inherent checks and balances. The government caged the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Three times the Congress-NCP government, the then Chief Ministers – Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, and Ashok Chavan turned a blind eye to the ongoing plunder in their respective tenures.
The Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government is completing four years in power. Fadnavis’ voice was one of the loudest against the irrigation scam. He came to power taking on Pawars over corruption, but once coming to power, he turned deaf and dumb on investigations – which was expected to hit NCP, particularly, its former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare, but he went soft-foot on the issue. At the same time, the Chief Minister has not shown gusto in bringing into light the misdeeds of the previous government. After the State Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar proposed a white paper on the state’s dismal financial performance in the past 15 years of the UPA rule, the CM insisted that it be softened to a mere status report. BJP had emerged as the single largest party in the recent Assembly elections by winning 121 seats – 23 short of an absolute majority. Hectic negotiations with both the Sena and NCP failed to yield results as both insisted on a larger share of ministries than BJP was willing to cede. Now that the picture is clear, there is a big question mark on the future of the investigation into the infamous irrigation scam. Will Fadnavis now take the investigation – which is expected to hit NCP, particularly its former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare, to its logical end? Or would he be forced to go soft-foot on the issue just to keep his government from falling?
Surprisingly, BJP loyalists like Nitin Gadkari and Chainsukh Sancheti have also been implicated in the scam. In the 13 days since his government was formed, Fadnavis’ actions have been ambiguous towards both the NCP and the issue of irrigation. On one hand, he sent a powerful message to the irrigation lobby by appointing IAS officer Malini Shankar as the Water Resources Department (WRD) head, ending the tradition of appointing department officials to that crucial post. While on the other hand, the ACB had filed two FIRs and one charge sheet in the scam, no politician was indicted. A nexus of contractors, officials, and politicians had milked thousands of crores meant for irrigation projects, revealed sources. NCP leaders who had controlled the department came under the scanner, but so far nothing much is done in this case. The AAP leaders are trying their best by knocking legal doors, let’s see what further twist this case takes.
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