Irrigation scam: BJP govt lets Ajit Pawar answer ACB queries from home

The BJP alliance government in Maharashtra has saved former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who is under investigation for the mega irrigation scam, of the ignominy of appearing before officers of the state Anti-Corruption Bureau by allowing him to respond to the queries from home.

In what appears to be a show of gratitude for the Nationalist Congress Party's support to BJP on the floor of the assembly, Ajit Pawar will not need to visit the Anti-Corruption Bureau's Worli office for questioning.

He can submit his responses to the ACB's questionnaire in writing from his home.

The ACB's decision to allow Ajit Pawar to respond to questions regarding the scam in writing comes after the BJP government got the NCP to move a no-confidence motion in March against legislative council chairman, Shivajirao Deshmukh, leading to his ouster, a first in the Maharashtra legislature.

However, officials of the state government are of the view that there is nothing wrong in the ACB's decision to allow the former minister to answer queries from home.

They argue that since Ajit Pawar not an accused so far and therefore cannot he compelled to present himself in the ACB office. But, in case he fails to respond to the questionnaire, the officials said they would assume it to be owning responsibility and proceed accordingly.

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had, in December 2014, given the ACB the go-ahead to initiate a probe against Pawar and state NCP president Sunil Tatkare in connection with irregularities in the execution of various irrigation projects during their tenure as water resource ministers.

The ACB had also earlier, in may, summoned Pawar for questioning, but he had avoided visiting the ACB office by saying that he was out of the state.

The chief minister had also given the go-ahead to an open inquiry by the ACB into allegations of corruption and favouritism against former public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal in the construction of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi and two other government buildings in Mumbai built under public-private partnership.

The Maharashtra irrigation scam relates to the approval granted to 38 projects worth Rs20,000 crore in 2009 by tweaking rules and without clearance of the governing council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).

The scam was brought to light in 2012 when Vijay Pandhare, the then chief engineer in the water resources department, wrote to the Maharashtra chief minister and governor pointing out the irregularities and cost variation in irrigation projects.

Ajit Pawar was the water resources minister in the state between 1999 and 2009.

It was also pointed out that despite the huge amounts spent on irrigation projects, there was no significant rise in irrigated land in the state. It was also brought to light that the government has incurred an expenditure of over Rs70,000 crore over the past 10 years to irrigate just 0.1 per cent land in the state.