The ruling Congress party in Maharashtra is not prepared to spare its partner the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on the issue of multi-crore irrigation scam. Interestingly, agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil punctured the NCP’s claim of a 5.17 per cent rise in the irrigation potential of the state, saying that the actual increase was a paltry 0.1 per cent during 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 as observed in the Economic Survey of Maharashtra. The Opposition, which was contesting the NCP’s claim, got a ready missile after the agriculture minister’s comment and pressed its demand for the establishment of special investigation team (SIT) to probe the scam.
After the NCP released two booklets to reiterate its claim that the irrigation potential was indeed 5.17 per cent and not 0.1 per cent, Congress insiders leaked a two-page undated letter written by the state’s agriculture secretary S K Goyal to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The letter said the there were inconsistencies in the figures given by the water resources department and that calculations used to reach the 5.17 per cent mark may be erroneous.
The Opposition immediately countered the NCP’s stand. However, during the entire assembly proceedings on Thursday and Friday, which were marked by slogan shouting from the NCP and Opposition members, Congress party legislators including the chief minister were silent observers.
Vikhe-Patil stuck to his stand and said that the irrigation potential rose to 17.9 per cent in 2009-10 from 17.8 per cent in 2000-01. The minister asked how well irrigation can be included in the irrigation potential projected by the water resources department. His statement came at a time when the NCP leader and home minister R R Patil had said it was a printing mistake that the irrigation potential surged by 0.1 per cent. This has not gone down well in the Congress camp, which decided to hit back.
Vikhe-Patil, who is a known baiter of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and his nephew and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, took yet another opportunity to further embarrass the NCP on the irrigation scam issue.
“The chief minister had given his approval only for the release of the white paper on irrigation sector, and not to accept it, without any discussion during the Cabinet meeting held the third week of November. The CM and the Congress party in general do not want to be party to NCP’s misdeeds. There are five petitions pending for admission and justice in different courts on irrigation scam, and it will not be proper for the Congress party to openly support the NCP,” a senior Congress minister told Business Standard on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Opposition in both the Houses of state legislature on Friday were quite firm in demanding an SIT probe. In fact, the state agriculture secretary’s letter came quite handy to the Opposition, which reiterated that the NCP and the water resources department were misguiding the people of state by showing a rise of 5.17 per cent in irrigation potential. The two Houses were adjourned amid din after today’s business was over.
Opposition leader Eknath Khadse said that the Opposition would rake up the issue on Monday after a two-day holiday for the winter session.