High Court directs court-monitored investigation into irrigation scam

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 07 Jul 2018 08:17:46


Staff Reporter,

Fed up with total inaction of investigating machinery to pin down culprits who siphoned of thousands of crores in irrigation scam, Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Friday mooted a court-monitored probe into entire scam. The High Court indicated that it would appoint two retired judges of High Court to whom the Special Investigation Team (SIT) would report either daily or every week to ensure that white-collared criminals who gobbled up public money would be brought to justice. The modalities in this regard, names of two ex-HC judges and infrastructure required for this empowered panel will be decided during next hearing slated on July 12. The court has asked the lawyers in the case to make suggestions for working of this panel. This unexpected twist in the irrigation scam has increased worries of former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and then WRD Minister Sunil Tatkare whose roles are under scanner in Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam.

Lashing out at State Government for tardy progress in entire scam which was highlighted way back in 2012 and where open enquiry was ordered by Chief Minister on December 12, 014, a division bench consisting of Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Justice Z A Haq while hearing a PIL filed by Atul Jagtap and Jan Manch minced no words in denouncing the dilly-dally tactics of the State.

During last hearing the High Court had put each member of Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted to probe irrigation scam on notice and had directed them to file their personal affidavits stating on record progress made so far. The affidavits filed hardly indicated any progress, after which the High Court decided not to give any more leeway to either SIT or Government and mooted a court monitored probe in which periodic progress is ensured along with accountability of investigating machinery while making it amply clear that SITs should not become show-pieces.

Continuing it’s tough stance against the irrigation scam and perpetrators who siphoned of the public money including the top officers and their political masters, the High Court posed some tough question to State Government about its abysmal failure in demonstrating substantial progress in last four months and rejected objections raised by respondents about naming a panel to monitor SIT.

The SITs were formed only after High Court stepped up pressure on the Government. The two SITs are headed by senior officers from Anti-Corruption Bureau of Nagpur and Amravati units to probe irrigation scam cases of Nagpur and Amravati divisions, respectively. SIT Nagpur and SIT Amravati 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, 14 cases are under investigation by respective Anti-Corruption Bureau units.

The State Government came under fire for being lenient towards top guns involved in irrigation scam and later the Chief Secretary in his affidavit had promised to provide these SITs with “necessary legal assistance and technical help in areas of auditing, etc. as required to speed up investigations.” During last hearings 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 about ambigious stance placed on record by then Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick who merely repeated that statement of Ajit Pawar who held Water Resources Department during Congress-NCP regime for pretty long time in irrigation scam cases was being recorded by 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 is being looked “in view of the Rules of Business, Government of Maharashtra,” and legal opinion had been sought regarding role of respondent no 7 while promising that ACB would leave no stone unturned to complete the probe and investigation expeditiously in fair and transparent manner. Even on this front no progress was shown on Friday.

Even during earlier hearings this carefully worded affidavit had failed to satisfy the High Court which slammed the State for doing precious little for last 40 months and had tersely observed “If this is state of affairs after the Chief Minister orders an open probe then what must be happening to ordinary investigations?” While strongly deprecating the conduct of investigating agencies and entire machinery in prolonging the probe against high and mighty.

The High Court had 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 tersely observed while taking authorities to task.

As a damage control, subsequent affidavit of Chief Secretary claimed, “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.”

Adv Shridhar Purohit and Adv Firdos Mirza appeared for the petitioners. Senior Counsel Prasad Dhakephalkar and Adv Deven Chauhan (ex-DyCM Pawar), Senior Counsel Subodh Dharmadhikari (Bajoria’s firm), Senior Counsel Anil Sakhre (Bajoria), Adv Vivek Palshikar (VIDC), Senior Counsel Anand Jaiswal (State) represented respondents.