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Saturday 25 January 2020

Ajit Pawar exonerated under whose instructions?

Did ACB exonerate Ajit Pawar knowing that the regime would change on 28 November or they were clearing his name with Devendra Fadnavis's knowledge?

Deputy chief minister of Maharashtra for two-and-a-half days, NCP leader Ajit Pawar is a relieved man today. Accused in the irrigation scam case, Pawar has been given a clean chit by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of the State. In an affidavit filed on 27 November in the Bombay High Court, the ACB said that Ajit Pawar could not be held responsible for corruption of execution agencies, as the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) chairman had no legal obligation to supervise what the agencies were up to!

This flies in the face of former ACB chief and incumbent Mumbai police commissioner Sanjay Barve’s statement, as placed in his affidavit in the court, which had alleged that Ajit Pawar had signed the extension of tenders for the Gosikhurd and Jigaon projects.

The latest affidavit, which exonerates Ajit Pawar, says, “As regards grant of sanction to the liability of the tender cost including that of updated cost, it is revealed during the course of enquiry/investigation that…

Only note-sheets for grant of liability of the tender cost were sent to the chairman of the corporation by the executive director of the VIDC.”

The ACB affidavit goes on to state, “In most of the cases the executive director of the VIDC has accorded permission to the updated cost of the tender work, being within 5% of (the) updated tender cost, as he is empowered to accept the tender up to 5% above the costs.”

“The proposals for (an) acceptance of the liability for the entire tender cost were being submitted to the chairman with the recommendation of the executive director. In some cases, the recommendations were also given by the principal secretary of the water resources department who is ex-officio managing director of the corporation.”

“But neither the executive director nor the managing director, have ever given negative remarks on note-sheets for the same. There is no evidence on record to say that the secretary of the department had briefed the Minister of Water Resources Department about not accepting the liability of the tender work.”

The NCP leader has got a clean chit in the Vidarbha irrigation scam from the Maharashtra ACB. The affidavit the bureau submitted to the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on 27 November said it (refer the quotes above). It was filed a day before the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government (Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress) was sworn in the State on (28 November). Does that mean the temporary Devendra Fadnavis government was complicit in the act?

In the midst of political turmoil in Maharashtra, the ACB had suddenly closed some cases related to the irrigation scam. There was a lot of speculation about this. However, the ACB later clarified it none of the nine cases that were closed had held Ajit Pawar culpable. That claim may, however, not be true.

ACB DG Parambir Singh had said, ‘We are investigating the complaints related to the irrigation scam involving 3,000 tenders. This is an everyday investigation that has closed. The cases that are already under investigation will continue.”

The ACB had arrested some government officials in this case. There were allegations on Ajit Pawar that he had approved all kinds of projects related to irrigation and its ever-burgeoning budget that had made the authority and media suspicious. Apart from the irrigation scam, Ajit Pawar is an accused in the Maharashtra Cooperative Bank scam, too, the case in which Sharad Pawar is a co-accused.

Ajit Pawar was questioned by the ACB recently for the scandal that had come to light in 2012. It was alleged that the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra had misappropriated Rs 35,000 crore in 1999-2000.

What is not clear is whether the ACB changed its tack knowing that the regime change was inevitable on 28 November or the drafting of this affidavit was happening even during the Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar rule, on the first day of which the BJP-led government was confident their deputy chief minister from the NCP would bring in the adequate numbers to pass the floor test.

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