Ajit got clean chit in irrigation scam a day after Fadnavis resigned as CM

Ajit Pawar’s exoneration was a result of enquiry processes that took place during the term of Fadnavis-led BJP-Sena government. In his election campaign though, Fadnavis had raised the issue of irrigation scam and Pawar’s involvement in it.

Maharashtra’s anti-corruption bureau (ACB) has cleared Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar of allegations in connection with an irrigation scam in the state, according to an affidavit filed in the high court late last month.

The affidavit, seen by HT, was filed in Bombay high court on November 27, in the middle of a tug-of-war for power between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a coalition of opposition parties including Pawar’s NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena.

“Considering facts and evidence collected during the course of inquiry/investigation, it is observed that there is no criminal liability on the part of chairman of VIDC (minister of water resources department),” said the affidavit, which was filed a day after BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis resigned following an aborted breakaway attempt by Pawar from NCP, which is headed by his uncle Sharad Pawar.

Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as CM on November 28 with support from Congress and NCP, to which Ajit Pawar has since returned.

The affidavit pertains to several allegations against Pawar, who was the minister of water resources between 1999 and 2009, including that of escalating costs in 32 irrigation projects in Vidarbha by Rs 17,700 crore within three months.

The allegations had been a political issue in the run-up to the 2014 state elections. Shortly after his victory, Fadnavis opened the case against Ajit Pawar.

In all, the irrigation scam involves 44 projects spread over Vidarbha and the Konkans and has till now led to 23 FIRs and 5 chargesheets.

Pawar’s role is under scanner in the Balganga project in Konkans, but he has not been charged in these. He has also not been named in any of the FIRs, with the probe against him being in the inquiry stage.

The November 27 affidavit is a climb down from the filing made by the ACB in 2018 when the agency said that Ajit Pawar seemed to had a role in the scam

According to the new affidavit, majority of the tender cost hikes were in the range of 5% and were cleared by the executive director of VIDC or in some cases the secretary. The minister, the affidavit says, signed note sheets that had no negative remarks on them.

“There is no evidence to show that the secretary had briefed the minister about not accepting liability of the cost escalations.”

Petitioners who were pursuing this case in the HC said the agency appears to be pinning the responsibility on the executive director of the irrigation corporation, lower rung officials and contractors while letting the then minister off.

The affidavit states that nothing adverse could be found in the money trails, nor was there any documentary or oral evidence against the minister.

It said that there were procedural lapses, departmental inquiries for which the minister cannot be held responsible.

“This [clean chit] is very surprising. How can one affidavit already filed by ACB be contradicted by another affidavit. I totally oppose this and I am sure that the court will not accept this,” said leader of Opposition and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Fadnavis denied any knowlege of this affidavit.