The Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has given a clean chit to former Water Resources Development Minister Ajit Pawar in the investigation of cases related to alleged corruption in irrigation projects in the state.
According to an affidavit filed in the Maharashtra High Court on 27 November, the NCP leader has been cleared of all allegations in the Vidarbha irrigation scam by the Maharashtra ACB. The affidavit was filed just a day before the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government (Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress) was sworn in the state on November 28.
“Considering facts and evidence collected during the course of inquiry/investigation, it is observed that there is no criminal liability on the part of chairman of VIDC (minister of water resources department),” said the affidavit, which was filed a day after BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis resigned following Ajit Pawar’s withdrawal of support to the BJP.
Ajit Pawar, chairman of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), cannot be held responsible for acts of the executing agencies as there is no legal duty on his part, the affidavit stated.
The affidavit is connected to several allegations against Ajit Pawar, who was the minister of water resources between 1999 and 2009, including that of escalating costs in 32 irrigation projects in Vidarbha by Rs 17,700 crore within three months.
As per an India Today report, former ACB chief and incumbent Mumbai police commissioner Sanjay Barve had filed an affidavit in the court accusing Ajit Pawar of signing extension of tender illegally in the Gosikhurd and Jigaon projects. However, the latest affidavit states that due process of filling through the VIDC was followed and rejected Sanjay Barve’s observations.
The allegations had been a political issue in the run-up to the 2014 state elections. Shortly after his victory, Fadnavis opened the case against Ajit Pawar. In all, 23 FIRs and 5 charge sheets have been filed in connection with the irrigation scam involving 44 projects spreading over Vidarbha and the Konkan region of the state.
Pawar’s role is also under the scanner in the Balganga project in the Konkan, however, he has not been charged in these. He has also not been named in any of the FIRs, with the investigation against him is yet to begin.
According to the new affidavit, the majority of the tender cost hikes were in the range of 5% and were cleared by the executive director of VIDC or in some cases the secretary. The affidavit says that the minister signed note sheets that had no negative remarks on them.
“There is no evidence to show that the secretary had briefed the minister about not accepting liability of the cost escalations,” read the affidavit filed by the ACB to High court.
The affidavit states that nothing adverse could be found in the money trails, nor was there any documentary or oral evidence against the minister. It said that there were procedural lapses, departmental inquiries for which the minister cannot be held responsible.
“This (clean chit) is very surprising. How can one affidavit already filed by ACB be contradicted by another affidavit? I totally oppose this and I am sure that the court will not accept this,” said the leader of Opposition and Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.