Another Rs 40,000 crore on dams repair. No benefit for farmers.
THE public tussle between Ajit Pawar, Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister is for public consumption, but there are massive financial scandals brewing in the background from which both might be seeking to escape. The list of land scandals in which the Pawars have got embroiled in have been carefully documented by various NGOs on the ground as well as media over the last few years.
For public consumption, Ajit Pawar’s ‘sudden’ resignation from the number two post in one of the richest states in the country is being tom-tommed by his party spokesmen as a measure of probity and credibility. But the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) which has been caught with its hand in the till did not make any attempt to bring in probity or an investigation for the last ten years when various irrigation projects have given rise to one scandal after the other.
The irrigation scandals, which Maharashtra is subsumed within the recent past, show a trend in culpability. And this trend is also evident in infrastructure projects taken up through various public-private-partnerships (PPPs).
The modus operandi is neat. The tender for various irrigation projects when floated have few takers. The few companies which actually bid for the projects quote very low price to bag the projects along with a list of benefits to the land owners around the project. But after the lowest bidder is chosen to implement the project, the delays can get inordinate, and in some cases go on for years. In the mean time the construction company escalates the price, sometimes, up to five times the original cost even while the government includes already irrigated land in the beneficiary list. It is a win-win situation for the company involved in the construction of small dams and the government officials as well as ministers in the deal.
What came as a surprise to many was the way ‘whistle-blower’ Vijay Pandhare has been attacked. Mr Pandhare is Water Resources Department Chief Engineer and member of the state-level technical advisory committee. NCP leaders said that his allegations of large-scale corruption and the inefficiency of the dams were baseless. Pandhare alleged that the Tapi Irrigation Project and Lower Tapi Irrigation Project were “unsafe and structurally poor’’. Pandhare in a recent letter cautioned his colleagues in the irrigation department about the inferior quality of work in projects like Lower Tapi, Tarli and Ghosikurd owing to rampant corruption by politicians and construction companies.
For nearly ten years, the NCP has been having a stranglehold over the irrigation department and now the skeletons are tumbling out. Many of the NGOs, who have suddenly struck gold in these land scandals, are no less culpable. They buy land near the newly irrigated regions of the dams after having scoured through RTI responses to find the best deals.
Though many in the news media have projected the latest tussle between the uncle-nephew Pawar team as Ajit Pawar’s way of putting his uncle in his place, the fast developing political scenario reflects on a strategy to make a last-ditch attempt to put Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithivraj Chawan in his place. All this while it has been known that Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi does not like to entertain the Union Agriculture Minister beyond a point.
Prithivraj Chawan has been raking up various scandals to corner the NCP allies in his government. So much so that he even promised a White Paper on the irrigation projects in the state. When things came to a head Sharad Pawar, with all the heft he could muster, threatened Congress chief in July this year to control the Chief Minister and other irritants in Maharashtra, else he would quit in 24 hours. But as reports came in, Sonia Gandhi only ignored the plea for what it was worth. Sharad Pawar even after the public shindig between the Congress and the trio – Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati, never proposed withdrawing support to the UPA government, and Sonia Gandhi only knows too well that the stakes for NCP are too high.
Outside the irrigation scandals, which have so many PILs being filed by various project affected people at various courts in Maharashtra, there are other scandals that the Pawars have got involved in. Even as we go to press, there are reports of Ajit Pawar’s involvement in the Adarsh scam. He is reported to have suggested three names for membership of Adarsh Society. This was revealed by former state MLC Kanhaiyalal Gidwani to the Judicial Commission probing the scandal. Adarsh scam’s total value is yet to be determined even though media reports puts it in hundreds of crores of rupees.
Others who recommended names to Adarsh Society include big names like former Congress state Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, state minister Patangrao Kadam, former state Principal Secretary AP Sinha, Congress state MLC Subhash Chavan and former state Principal Secretary RC Joshi. Gidwani also informed the investigating judicial commission that former state Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s relative Seema Sharma also approached him personally for a flat in Adarsh Society.
Even as intense political lobby was at work in Maharashtra to find a way to bail out the NCP ministers who were caught in a volley of scandals NCP ministers Jayant Patil, Anil Deshmukh, Babanrao Pachupute, Jaidutta Kshirsagar and RR Patil met at state Assembly Speaker Dilip Walse Patil’s house on September 26. Incidentally, Sharad Pawar asked the state Chief Minister to accept Ajit Pawar’s resignation even though it is not certain if state Chief Minister Prithivraj Chawan will play ball. Also, in a deliberate attempt to confound a confusing situation, central senior NCP members said that Ajit Pawar’s resignation must be accepted as it comes in the wake of a series of serious allegations of corruption.
But the state NCP leaders and state cabinet members maintained that Ajit Pawar should not be allowed to put in his papers. In the meanwhile Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, in Nashik said that the ‘inner voice’ of her cousin prompted him to resign. Many in the media failed to ask why he took so long to listen to his ‘inner voice’ as corruption charges have been piling up for almost a decade now.