Maharashtra government's ATR on irrigation scam omits naming Ajit Pawar

Opposition threatens legal action unless deputy chief minister is punished

 
By Aparna Pallavi
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Gosekhurd dam work was started without land acquisition or forest or environment clearance (Courtesy: khalatkarconst.com)

Maharashtra government's action taken report after a special investigation team (SIT) exposed large-scale corruption in the state's irrigation projects has stirred up another controversy, with the opposition BJP accusing the ruling Congress-led state government of bias. The action taken report was tabled in the state Assembly last Saturday. 

The Congress-led government has taken a highly selective and partial view of Chitale Panel’s report on the irrigation scam, BJP president, Devendra Fadnavis, told Down To Earth (DTE).

The state cabinet had accepted 20 of the 22 recommendations of the SIT report. The ATR, however, has failed to satisfy the opposition BJP. Fadnavis, who had earlier leaked portions of the report in the state Assembly session on Friday, June 13, one day before the conclusion of the monsoon Assembly session, has said that the government ATR has addressed only selected portions of the report, omitting the mention of portions that directly nail then irrigation minister and current deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. He stated that unless the government takes criminal action against the guilty, his party will take the case to court.

Selective action, faulty TOR

Fadnavis pointed out that the interpretation of the report made by current water resources minister, Sunil Tatkare, is faulty. He stated that while the SIT report argued that irrigation potential was increased by just two per cent, Tatkare’s report inflates the figure to 26 per cent. “This is a blatant attempt to mislead the people,” he said.

Fadnavis pointed out that the ATR, which talks of taking action against guilty bureaucrats, has omitted two major points in the report. The first is a mention on page 600 of the report, which says that while the executive directors and chief accountants and financial officers of the irrigation development corporations (IDCs) are to blame for irregularities like issuing revised administrative approvals (RAAs), it is impossible to believe that the governing council of IDCs, comprising the minister for water resources and several principal secretaries, were unaware of the irregularities, because the IDCs do not have the power to issue RAAs without consulting the governing council.

“The chairman of the governing council is the water resources minister, who at the time was Pawar,” said Fadnavis. “This is as clear an indication as it gets. What the government should have done in its ATR is to mention this fact and then either accept or reject it.” Instead, said he, the government has chosen not to mention the detail at all, giving the impression that the committee has given a clean chit to Pawar, which is not the case.

The second major omission, according to him, is the mention (page 606 of the report) of seven types of serious irregularities which were not investigated by the committee since they were not included in the terms of reference (TOR) provided to it. These, said Fadnavis, include post tender updating of estimates, which is to the tune of Rs 11,000 crore, attachment of additional work to original work plan, to the tune of Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 crore and provision of mobilisation funds to contractors in cases where the contracts did not include this provision, to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore. There are a few other irregularities on which estimates are yet to be made.

“The SIT has recommended further investigation be carried out in these areas. But the government, instead of either accepting or rejecting this recommendation, has omitted its mention altogether,” said Fadnavis.

CAG rap on mobilisation fund

Incidentally, the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) agrees with Fadnavis’ contention on mobilisation of funds. The CAG’s performance audit of irrigation projects from the year 2003 to 2007 points out that a mobilisation advance was paid to contractors of 37 projects despite the fact that no such advance was mentioned in their contracts. The other points raised in the CAG report include a cost overrun of 60,235 crore in some 601 ongoing projects. Rate of completion of projects is also poor, as 77 projects have not been completed for more than 30 years since inception, while 195 projects have been dragging on for more than 15 years.

Fadnavis and opposition leader Vinod Tawade have demanded that guilty officials, against whom the government is taking action, be subjected to narco tests, so that they may reveal the identity of the ministers and secretaries who ordered the illegal steps taken by them.

Fadnavis regretted that the Assembly session concluded on Saturday itself, leaving him no time to file a breach of privilege motion against Tatkare. However, he said that unless government takes action against the guilty, his party will resort to legal action.
 

What the Chitale report says
 
  • Only two per cent of the irrigation target of 550,000 ha of land achieved. While the five irrigation development corporations (IDCs) in the state have constructed dams with a potential for irrigating 243,000 ha, water has actually reached only 12,000 ha of land.
  • Between October 2006 and August 2009, 29 dubious revised administrative approvals (RAAs) were issued, 14 of which (nearly half) relate to projects in Vidarbha.
  • Cost of four projects was escalated without even the formal process of RAA
  • Major changes in project design were made after the contract was granted, resulting in cost inflation.
  • Cost of 28 projects were raised due to change in design.
  • Administrative approval was granted and work started on projects before the project designs were finalised, leading to massive cost escalations because of the final design not matching with work carried out earlier.
  • In Gosekhurd dam work was started without land acquisition or forest or environment clearance

Feature: The case of Maharashtra's disappearing water

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