HC asks Govt to spell out role of Ajit Pawar in irrigation scam

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 09 Feb 2018 10:09:29


Staff Reporter,

HC warns investigating agency to conduct probe responsibly or face music

Pawar and then WRD Secretary in dock for breaching rules of business and keeping the cabinet in dark

High Court seeks detailed report in two weeks about culpability of Pawar and Bajoria

IN a worrisome development for former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar who held Water Resources Department during Congress-NCP regime for pretty long time, Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the State Government and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to spell out role played by Pawar in awarding tender to his close aide and former MLC Sandip Bajoria and place it before the court in two weeks. Virtually rejecting the clean chit argument forwarded by Pawar since last many hearings, the High Court made it clear that it would like to wait for State Government’s answer and ACB reply before passing any further order.

The petitioner had alleged that Raigad river project at Chandur Railway, Waghadi irrigation project in Daryapur, Jigaon and Lower Pedhi works were awarded to firm controlled by Bajoria on the basis of bogus documents revealing gross violation of norms by the authorities due to his proximity to then Deputy Chief Minister.

The petition had produced on record documents procured under the RTI indicating that then WRD Minister Ajit Pawar and then WRD Secretary had granted approval to whopping cost escalation in their capacity as Chairman and Managing Director of the VIDC and not as Minister and Secretary respectively and no concurrence from Finance Department was obtained. The cost of the Jigaon project rose to mind-boggling Rs 5,700 crore from Rs 394 crore in 15 years. Even the mandatory permission from the State Cabinet was not obtained and no scrutiny was allowed at inter-departmental level, thereby facilitating massive loot of public money, the petition claimed while blaming Pawar and Bajoria for forging an unholy alliance throwing all norms to wind.

Taking the allegation levelled by the petitioner about laxity towards former WRD Minister Ajit Pawar and Bajoria by ACB so far very seriously, a division bench consisting of Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Justice Swapna Joshi while hearing PIL filed by Atul Jagtap alleging that Bajoria’s firms bagged contracts for Jigaon and other projects byquestionable methods, warned that it will not spare any investigating officer, found wanting in conducting proper investigation and finding out role of each person, howsoever mighty, in facilitating alleged irregularity. The High Court also sought to know, the details of documents handled by probe officer along with details like time taken to study, probe and outcome of such probe.

The High Court also expressed its displeasure over affidavit filed by ACB which was conspicuously silent about role of Pawar and Bajoria and sought to know reasons for this omission, particularly when the PIL had levelled serious allegations against them on the basis of VIDC’s own documents.

Petitioner’s counsel Shridhar Purohit lashed out at respondent ACB for not even perusing incriminating evidence placed on record and specific allegation levelled against Pawar along with documents indicating active role played by him in tweaking norms, manipulating conditions and allowing Bajoria to bag tender for four major projects, though his firm was not eligible.

Refuting the allegation, senior counsel Subodh Dharmadhikari appearing for respondent-Bajoria stated that role of then WRD Minister and Bajoria was examined by several committees and not an iota of evidence was found against them. Besides, no procedural violation was detected and there was no truth in wild allegations levelled by petitioner, he said.

As directed by the High Court, the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) produced documents pertaining to four major projects in Yavatmal and Buldhana district and those pertaining to departmental probe, but found that only papers related to tender works were produced. Now, the High Court has sought details of probe conducted so far, role of Pawar as alleged by petitioner and also performance of investigating officers.

Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) had already registered offences against Bajoria Construction company and seven engineers under section 119, 420, 466, 468, 471,474, 192, 193, 197, 198, 120 (B), 109 and other sections of IPC for misappropriation in Jigaon Irrigation Project at Khamgaon Police Station. The ACB has filed a case against them on November 3, 2017 exposing the unholy nexus of contractors and officials who allegedly milked thousands of crore meant for irrigation projects.

Pursuant to earlier directions issued by High Court about stance of the State Government about progress in probe against Pawar and Bajoria in respect of alleged irregularities in Raigad river project at Chandur Railway and Waghadi irrigation project in Daryapur, Principal Secretary of WRD in his affidavit had informed that Jigaon and Lower Pedhi project works were being probed by the ACB while vigilance section of WRD conducted the audit of Jigaon and report had been submitted to State Government.

Pursuant to this report, the ACB would act further. ACB probe into Lower Pedhi had been ordered in July 2017 and Vigilance Section would conduct audit of this project. Similarly audit of Raigad and Waghadi project is being conducted by Superintendent Engineer of Vigilance section.

The PIL alleged that tender conditions were tweaked to favour the construction firm controlled by Bajoria, a big name in irrigation construction sector, allegedly at the behest of Pawar. Bajoria’s firm got contract for both the projects only due to his proximity with Pawar. The petitioner, who obtained details under the RTI Act, and filed series of petitions against Bajoria, alleged that forged and fabricated documents were submitted by Bajoria to meet the eligibility criterion.

The PIL also slammed the respondent contractor firm for not completing project work despite availing mobilisation advance from the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation while demanding high-level probe into the irregularities and scrapping of tender process and issuance of new tenders.

Adv Shridhar Purohit appeared for the petitioner. Addl GP Anand Fulzele (State) Adv Shyam Dewani (former Dy CM), Sr Adv Subodh Dharmadhikari (Bajoria), Adv Vivek Palshikar (VIDC) represented respondents.