Pressure is mounting on the leadership of the ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for the re-induction of former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in the Maharashtra cabinet following a clean chit given to him in the multi-crore irrigation scam. The trigger is white paper presented to the state cabinet this evening which has clarified that there were no irregularities in the implementation of 38 irrigation projects in the Vidarbha region in particular sanctioned when Pawar was the water resources minister during 1999 and 2009.
The state NCP spokesman Nawab Malik admitted that on behalf of the party and its members a representation would be made to the party high command for the re-induction of Pawar in the state cabinet. Malik said the allegations levelled against Ajit Pawar of his alleged involvement in the irrigation scam were totally baseless and it would be known after the white paper on irrigation sector would be formally released.
A senior minister, who is a close confidant of Ajit Pawar on a condition of anonimity, told Business Standard, "Ajit Pawar's re-entry into the state cabinet is a must as the NCP ministers are simply clueless and not in a position to take any strong decision or take on the chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. There is a unanimous view of the NCP's 19 ministers that Ajit Pawar's re-induction is necessary to drive home NCP's case on various issues strongly. They will make a strong appeal to the NCP chief and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar for the re-appointment of Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister in the state cabinet." The minister said the party cannot afford Ajit Pawar to keep out of the state cabinet especially when it was quite eager to win maximum number of seats in the 288 member state assembly in 2014 elections.
Ajit Pawar became a centre of controversy in September after series of expose in a section of press and media with regards to the alleged irrigation scam. He was also under attack as the irrigation department’s chief engineer V Pandhare also levelled serious allegations over the manner in which the expenditure was carried out. Pandhare had demanded a CBI inquiry into these scams.
The Opposition had also joined the bandwagon attacking Ajit Pawar. Subsequently, Ajit Pawar had resigned on September 25 as the deputy chief minister even without taking his party colleagues into confidence. In 2009, when Ajit Pawar was state water resources minister he cleared 38 irrigation projects worth Rs 20,000-25,000 crore without allegedly going through the procedures. Besides, clearances to projects include Krishna Valley Development Corporation in Western Maharashtra with seven dams were also accorded. After the sanctioning, the cost of projects were increased and received approvals. In Vidharba, the cost of 38 projects were increased by 300% between June and August, the opposition claimed.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who had in May announced that a white paper would be released on the irrigation sector based on the observations made in the Economic Survey that despite expenditure of Rs 70,000 crore, a paltry 0.1% of irrigation potential was created during 2001 and 2010, repeatedly said that bring out white paper was a commitment and it was not an investigation report. Chavan also said some of the irrigation projects were launched to appease few despite non availability of adequate funds.
However, NCP minister admitted that even though Ajit Pawar has given a clean chit in the white paper the petition is pending for judgment before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court. "Ajit Pawar's fate equally depends on the outcome of the court proceedings. The Nagpur bench is soon expected to begin the hearing in this matter. The Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, which is a nodal agency for the implementation of 38 irrigation projects in the region, would submit its affidavit as directed by the court," the minister informed.