‘SITs in irrigation scam are mere eyewash’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Apr 2018 09:53:34


Staff Reporter,

The half-hearted decision of State Government to constitute two Special Investigation Teams (SITs) by simply re-organising existing officers of Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) to complete the probe into irrigation scam cases, has invited sharp response from the petitioners who dubbed it as “mere eyewash.”

State has merely added few more ACB personnel to existing teams and did not specify time-frame to complete the investigation which is quite disappointing, the petitioners claimed while pointing out that till April 4, 2018 the ACB’s role has been far from satisfactory.

Jan Manch, which probed the irrigation scam and conducted physical audit of all projects, promised to place on record details of complaint submitted to ACB years ago pin-pointing role of each individual including top officials, their political masters and influential contractors who bagged majority of contracts by tweaking norms, manipulating tenders and escalating cost by brazenly violating set procedure. Jan Manch also demanded copies of chargesheet already filed in irrigation scam cases.

The High Court had strongly deprecated the conduct of investigating agencies and entire machinery in prolonging the probe against high and mighty in irrigation scam and had asked authorities to wake up from deep slumber and get going after the real scamsters.
The High Court had sought to know as to why Special Investigation Teams (SIT) were not formed and warned that if on next date, no satisfactory explanation was offered, it would pass appropriate orders.

Perhaps, to avoid the formation of court-monitored investigation conducted by court-appointed SITs, the State hurriedly formed two SITs with existing manforce. But this failed to satisfy the petitioners.

The High Court sought to know whether the SITs would be probing only irrigation scam matters or would also conduct other investigations, to which Special Counsel Anand Jaiswal, appearing for the State Government, informed that additional personnel would be deployed and SITs would conduct probe into only irrigation scam related cases A division bench consisting of Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice Murlidhar Giratkar while hearing public interest litigations (PILs) filed by Atul Jagtap and Jan Manch, asked the petitioners to file a rejoinder to affidavit filed by Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick and posted the hearing on April 18.
According to affidavit filed by Chief Secretary, the two teams will be headed by Superintendent of Police rank officers to probe irrigation scam cases of Nagpur and Amravati divisions respectively.

SIT Nagpur and SIT Amravati will have one additional SP rank officer, three Dy SP rank officers, nine Police Inspectors and necessary police staff to conduct the probe expeditiously. Nagpur ACB unit is enquiring and investigating into 17 projects while Amravati ACB is investigating 26 projects. Thane ACB is also probing 12 matters.

So far, out of 35 cases of Nagpur and Amravati divisions covered in open enquiry, offences have been registered in 16 cases while chargesheet has been filed in only 2 cases while 14 cases are under investigation by respective Anti Corruption Bureau units.

According to the affidavit filed by the Chief Secretary, “ACB has to probe into allegation of corruption, irregularities and illegalities committed in the tender process, award of contract/work and its execution by scanning and analysing voluminous documents, recording statements, collecting and collating all available evidence, obtaining expert opinions on various technical and legal issues and therefore, to arrive at a legal and logical conclusion, considering these voluminous tasks, the enquiry officers require sufficient time to complete these investigations.”

Chief Secretary has promised on behalf of State Government to provide these SITs with “necessary legal assistance and technical help in areas of auditing etc. as required to speed up investigations.”

Adv Shridhar Purohit, representing the petitioner Jagtap, expressed his utter disappointment over composition of SITs and stated that it was contrary to expectation and he was expecting that SITs would be headed by senior officers and multi-agency experts to unearth the scam whose magnitude was pegged at whopping Rs 70,000 crore. This SIT has to probe the role of influential individuals like then Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and WRD Minister Sunil Tatkare, but very junior level officers are named to head SITs.

Even these so called SITs were formed following judicial whiplash and scathing criticism by High Court three weeks ago reminding the State about its abysmal failure in completing open probe ordered 39 months ago by none other than Chief Minister.

During last hearing the High Court had lashed out at State Government for citing the lame excuse of constraints of manpower and logistics for tardy progress in completing enquiry into irrigation scam matters.

The High Court had made its displeasure very clear when Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick’s affidavit repeated that role of Ajit Pawar who held Water Resources Department during Congress-NCP regime for pretty long time in irrigation scam cases, was under scanner and he had been questioned. “Statement of Pawar (Respondent no. 7) has been recorded by the ACB and his role is also being investigated in award of the tender and approval of the work order by examining various related documents.”

Chief Secretary’s affidavit had further revealed that role of Pawar was being looked “in view of the Rules of Business, Government of Maharashtra,” and legal opinion had been sought regarding role of Pawar while promising that ACB would leave no stone unturned to complete the probe and investigation expeditiously in fair and transparent manner.

The High Court made it clear that Chief Secretary’s detailed affidavit must disclose stages of open enquiry and progress into irrigation scam cases without harping on lack of manpower and resources. At least, in serious and sensitive case of this magnitude, such reasons should not be extended to hide complete failure to bring scamsters to book, the High Court had tersely observed while taking authorities to task.

However, despite this dressing down, the latest short affidavit has once again skipped these vital issues and dished out very vague details about probe without providing any cogent reason for delay in completing the scam probe.
Adv Shridhar Purohit (Jagtap), Adv Firdos Mirza (Jan Manch), Special Counsel Anand Jaiswal, GP Sumant Deopujari (State), Senior Counsel Subodh Dharmadhikari (Bajoria), Senior Counsel Anil Sakhre and Adv Deven Chauhan (Ajit Pawar) appeared in the matter.