ACB exonerates Ajit Pawar in Vidarbha irrigation scam.

Maharashtra’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has given a clean chit to NCP leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in the multi-crore Vidarbha irrigation scam.

The ACB, in its affidavit submitted in the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, has ruled out Pawar’s involvement in cases of alleged irregularities in approval and commissioning of irrigation projects in the state.

The affidavit was submitted on November 27, a day before the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of the Shiv Sena -NCP-Congress was sworn-in the state on November 28.

The court had asked the ACB to clarify its stand on the role of Pawar, a former Water Resources Development Minister, in these cases.

Pawar, the NCP MLA from Baramati in Pune district, was Water Resources Development Minister during 1999-2009 when the Congress-NCP combine was in power in Maharashtra.

Pawar had also served as chairman of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), which had cleared irrigation projects in which irregularities were alleged.

The affidavit said there were lapses on the part of executing agencies of the tender work – that is engineers, divisional accountants and respective contractors of these projects.

“However, the VIDC chairman/Minister of Water Resource Department (WRD) cannot be made responsible for the acts of the executing agencies as there is no legal duty on his part,” it stated.

The ACB is inquiring into a total of 2,654 tenders related to 45 projects of VIDC as per two PILs filed in 2012 before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court.

On November 25, the anti-graft agency had said it has closed probe in nine cases of alleged corruption in irrigation projects, but clarified none of them was linked to Pawar.

“These enquiries were closed as no criminal offence was made out after enquiry against anyone. None of these nine enquiries was in respect to Ajit Pawar, the then chairman of VIDC,” the ACB had said.

About the November 27 affidavit, a senior ACB official said the court had asked the agency to submit a ‘status report’ on the VIDC scam before November 28.

“We have not closed inquiry into the VIDC cases. In some cases we have filed chargesheets and investigation is also going on. Similarly, investigation into FIRs related to these cases are also going on.

“We have submitted the status report on investigation going on into tenders that were issued (by VIDC),” he said.

He said the HC had asked the ACB to submit a report on the PIL filed by one Atul Jagtap concerning award of tenders for an irrigation project in Amravati. Pawar was named a respondent in this PIL.

“Concerning this we had, in our previous affidavit, written that we have referred this matter to the government for opinion.

“Now, we have got opinion from the government that Ajit Pawar was not involved in it (the scam) and this we have communicated to the court a few days back.

“Besides, Ajit Pawar was never an accused in any of our cases and investigation into Vidarbha irrigation tender cases are still on,” the ACB official said.

The November 27 affidavit said, “There are two allegations against the (then) chairman of VIDC (Pawar) – (A)regarding grant of sanction to the liability of the tender cost including that of updated cost and (B)grant of mobilisation advance to the contractor despite there was no mention of the same in the tender booklet.”

“Detailed enquiries/investigations have been conducted in this regard and opinion of the expert committee members appointed by the government for advise in the course of enquiry on technical issues have been obtained. Similarly, queries were referred to government also,” it said.

The ACB said reports of several committees were also also taken into account.

“Opinion given by the above authorities and the clarifications given by the ex-chairman officio of VIDC were taken into consideration along with other evidence collected during the enquiry.

“Also, the reports of the Nandkumar Vadnere committee, the HT Mendhegiri and the Dr Madhavrao Chitale committee are referred for the allegations in the PILs,” it said.

The affidavit stated that nothing adverse regarding money trail linkages has been noticed so far. Also, neither documentary nor oral evidence could be gathered during probe till now.

“There are some procedural lapses, departmental irregularities such as sending some files and proposals by the executive director to the chairman without routing those through the managing director/ principal secretary of WRD.”

There were also instances of lapses in the payment of EMD (Earnest Money Deposit) amount by successful bidders in some cases,issuing of tender booklets to some non-eligible bidders and JV firms without following preconditions of tenders, the anti-graft agency said.

The affidavit has asked for disposal of PILs.

The scam, pegged at around Rs 70,000 crore, related to alleged corruption, cost escalations and irregularities in approval and execution of various irrigation projects during the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) rule.

The allegations on Pawar included claims that he awarded projects at inflated prices.

Last month, Pawar had rebelled and joined hands with the BJP to form a short-lived government in Maharashtra where he was deputy chief minister for just three days. He later resigned and returned to the NCP fold.

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