Former deputy chief minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar found himself in further trouble. The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court directed the state government to expedite the anti-corruption bureau inquiry against him in the irrigation scam.
While taking strong exception to the failure in submitting an inquiry status report against Pawar and former NCP MLC Sandeep Bajoriya, the high court bench sternly directed the government to file a report within six weeks.
The court was furious after the government failed to comply with last week’s order, when it had asked for a progress report. Pawar and Bajoriya have been accused of corruption and irregularities in irrigation projects at Jigaon in Buldhana, Lower Pedhi in Amravati, Raigad barrage near Chandur Railway, and Waghadi in Yavatmal, all in Vidarbha.
Chief minister Devedndra Fadnavis had asked the ACB a few months ago to probe the multi-crore irrigation scam and Pawar’s alleged role in it.
A nexus of contractors, officials and politicians allegedly milked thousands of crore meant for irrigation projects. While the ACB had filed two FIRs and one charge sheet in the scam, no politician has been indicted, so far.
A division bench comprising justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and justice Arun Upadhye in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court directed the ACB investigation officer to specifically conduct a probe into allegations against Bajoriya’s firm that claim it bagged contracts for Jigaon and other projects on the basis of bogus documents. It directed the officer to submit findings along with an audit report before next hearing.
The directives came while hearing a PIL by Atul Jagtap of Nagpur, alleging the contracts in all these projects were awarded to Bajoriya Construction Company headed by ex-MLC from Yavatmal, at the behest of Pawar, who headed the irrigation department in the previous Congress-NCP regime.
Pawar had also filed an application through senior counsel Mohan Bhangde and Shyam Dewani for deletion of his name from the case, contending he had no role to play and there were no specific allegations against him. However, the court had refused to grant immediate relief to him.
The cost of the Jigaon project rose to Rs5,700-crore from Rs394 crore in 15 years. The cost is expected to further cross Rs7,000 crore by the project’s deadline in 2019.
The petitioner also sought constitution of a high-powered committee to investigate the alleged corruption and illegalities in allotment of tenders to Bajoriya’s firm. Bajoria’s firm got contract for both the projects only due to his proximity with Pawar, the PIL alleged.
Earlier, state water resources department (WRD) principal secretary Iqbal Dhahal filed an affidavit informing that the ACB had already conducted an inquiry into nine tenders of Jigaon project and requested the government to conduct their technical audit. Accordingly, the technical audit was conducted by Amravati vigilance circle superintending engineer (SE) and a report was submitted to WRD. The report is being scrutinised at the government level, and will be finalised within the next four weeks, before being handed over to the ACB.
The affidavit, filed as per HC’s oral directives, mentioned the government directed Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) executive engineer in Nagpur through a July 28 letter to submit necessary information to ACB regarding 38 irrigation projects in Vidarbha, including Lower Pedhi.
A vigilance enquiry has also been ordered into Lower Pedi work through same officer, and the report would submit before September 25. Even in Raigad Barrage and Waghadi projects, the SE would conduct probe and submit report within four weeks. The SE assured to take appropriate action against contractors based on the reports.