Ajit Pawar, in a shocking statement asked if he was expected to fill empty dams by urinating in them. While party workers laughed and applauded, the junior Pawar seems to have forgotten that his government spent over Rs70,000 crore for increasing the irrigation potential in Maharashtra by a mere 0.1% in one of the biggest scandals in the state
Ajit Pawar, nephew of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra has provoked national outrage with his insane humour regarding the lack of water for drought-hit farmers. While Ajit Pawar has issued an apology, it does not mitigate the damage already done. The question is, how can the deputy CM make such a thoughtless remark when he himself was at the helm of affairs in the irrigation department for over 10 years while the government spent over Rs70,000 crore to increase the state’s irrigation potential by mere 0.1%?
The insane remark has even forced the NCP chief to tender an apology on behalf of his deputy CM—strangely enough on social media, which allows only 149 characters to express regret. Sharad Pawar, on twitter, said, “I duly apologise on the behalf of Deputy CM of Maharashtra for the unwanted comment that he had made.” However, this is not the first time, the NCP chief has to apologise for his nephew. But more about it later.
On Saturday, while speaking at a public function at Nimboli near Indapur, the junior Pawar, had said, “There is this person, Deshmukh from Solapur, who is on hunger strike for 55 days demanding to release water from Ujani dam. When there is no water in the dam, from where we are going to release (the water)? Should we urinate?”
The person, Ajit Pawar referred in his speech is Bhaisaheb Deshmukh from Solapur who is sitting on protest for over 55 days at Azad Maidan in Mumbai demanding release of water from Ujani dam for the nearby villages.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has alleged that while villagers are denied water from the Ujani dam, the same is being provided to Dynamix Dairy, a company owned by a family considered close to Sharad Pawar, and to sugar mills controlled by leaders from the NCP and Congress.
Ujani dam, created by the 185 ft high earth-cum-concrete gravity dam on the Bhima river in Solapur district has an annual utilisation capacity of 580 cubic metre (cu mi) with a catchment area of 14,850 sq km. Water supplied from the reservoir for irrigation in agricultural areas was primarily aimed at reducing incidence of famines and scarcity during drought conditions. However, due to political interference and increased water supply to sugar mills, the conditions have become adverse leaving lakhs of people without drinking water.
The primary reason for acute water shortage is increased cultivation of sugar cane, especially in drought-affected areas. On an average, sugar cane requires 1.8 lakh litres of water per acre for one crop cycle. Similarly, sugar mills need 354.34 cu mi of water from crushing 1,000 metric tonnes of sugar cane.
The catchment area of Ujani dam witnesses an average rainfall of 700 mm per year, which is more suitable for crops like jowar (millet) and groundnut. The storage created by the Ujani Dam has resulted in the irrigation of 500 sq km, particularly in Solapur district, resulting in doubling the yield of jowar and tripling the yield of groundnut.
However, due to the increase in number of sugar mills in the region, especially those set up by politicians, this picture has now changed. Out of the total 160 sugar mills in Maharashtra, there are 16 mills in Pune district and 18 in Solapur district and almost all of them are related with or controlled by politicians, especially from the NCP and Congress, both ruling parties in the state.
Coming back to Ajit Pawar's crass speech, it did not stop with urinating for water—he also linked the growing population to increased copulation due to power shortages and load shedding. He said, “I have also come to know that since there is load shedding (power cuts) in the state, the population is increasing. Due to lack of electricity, people have nothing else to do.”
However, after nationwide horror and outrage at the insensitivity of the remarks and strident calls for his resignation, Ajit Pawar tendered an apology. In a statement issued on Sunday evening, he said, “The statement… was not about the drought-affected people, but if I have hurt the feelings of people, I apologise with humility.”
Opposition parties criticised Ajit Pawar’s comments. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded his resignation, Uddhav Thackeray, chief of the Shiv Sena, asked Sharad Pawar and Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to remove the junior Pawar from the state Cabinet.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, while speaking in a public meeting at Jalgaon, said, “How can the deputy chief minister use such dirty language about the people of this state? When people are suffering in drought, he had no shame in showing any responsibility and instead is using such a foul language.”
In a statement, AAP, said, “His (Ajit Pawar’s) statements show his true face…a corrupt politician who has no empathy for the citizens and to have such a man at a leadership role in disaster for the state. What is even more shocking is that his statements were met with laughter from the NCP spectators. After holding the irrigation portfolio and spending Rs77,000 crore, he dares to ask where should he get the water from?”
The irrigation scam
Last September, the Economic Survey made an observation stating that though Rs70,000 crore had been spent on various projects during the last decade, Maharashtra's irrigation potential had increased by just 0.1%. Interestingly, the irrigation portfolio (now known as water resources ministry) has been held by the NCP since 1999, by Ajit Pawar till 2009 and after that by Sunil Tatkare, a close associate of the junior Pawar.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had already begun a probe into the decisions taken by the irrigation ministry during that period.
Earlier in February 2012, Vijay Pandhare, chief engineer from the irrigation department and a member of the state level technical advisory committee, wrote a letter to authorities pointing out the gross irregularities. In an explanatory letter in May, Pandhare pointed out that Rs12,000 crore spent on lift irrigation projects in the state are a total waste as around 99% of the total 227 projects in Maharashtra are not working and 90% never began functioning.
In 2009, 32 irrigation projects worth Rs20,000 to Rs25,000 crore were cleared by Ajit Pawar, the then irrigation minister of Maharashtra allegedly without following the procedures. Clearances to projects include Krishna Valley Development Corp in Western Maharashtra with seven dams. The cost of 38 projects in Vidarbha were increased by 300% between June and August.
In Vidarbha, where much of the exposed irregularities lie, the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation undertook some 320 projects since 1997. However, actual increase in irrigated area till March 2011 has been just 26,000 hectares (ha) against the targeted 1.58 million ha, according to the state water resources department.
In Vidarbha, the cost of the Gosekhurd project, the largest in Maharashtra, increased at the rate of Rs1.19 crore per day. It shot up 36.52 times in 29 years to Rs13,596 crore. The cost of the Lower Painganga project in Yavatmal district also escalated at a rate of Rs1.9 crore per day. In Washim district, also the cost of 11 barrages went up to Rs40-Rs50 crore each in 2009 from an estimated cost of Rs7-Rs8 crore a year ago.
AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal has alleged that business interests of Nitin Gadkari, former president of BJP, were hurting interests of farmers in Vidarbha region. Alleging a nexus between Ajit Pawar and Gadkari, the AAP founder said, the then BJP president sought and secured 37 ha land that was acquired by Maharashtra government for a dam but not used. The land was allotted by Ajit Pawar, who was the irrigation minister then, Kejriwal said.
The controversy raised by communications send by Pandhare caused Ajit Pawar to resign as deputy chief minister in September 2012. However, within few months, he was back in the cabinet as deputy chief minister.
Apologies from Sharad Pawar
Earlier also NCP chief Sharad Pawar had tendered an apology over Ajit Pawar’s allegedly use of abusive language about journalists. “As party chief, I won’t have qualms about offering a public apology. Here, if language of force has been used, I have no problem in (tendering) apology,” he had said.
In February 2011, while speaking at a function in Nanded district, Ajit Pawar had accused journalist of fabricating stories and criticised media for allegedly indulging in untruths and half-truths and suggested a gag on those indulging in such methods, which led to the controversy. This led to media boycotting coverage of functions including Ajit Pawar and Maharashtra CM Chavan.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, at the women’s wing AGM of FICCI in Delhi, said that it is time to unleash the economic potential of 50% of the population—namely women
While IRDA guidelines are clear that a TPA cannot settle or reject health insurance claims, the regulator seems to have made a last minute change related to a TPA’s function that was absent in the previous versions of the draft. Has it created a loophole to give TPAs a role due to pressure from insurance companies?
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) health insurance guidelines address several issues like lifelong renewals, special provisions for senior citizens, transparency in premium and claims based loading as well as excluding the role of third-party-administrators (TPAs) for claims settlement and rejections.
It is a positive initiative to keep TPAs away from claims settlement or rejection due to numerous cases of inconsistencies in the payment amount as well as arbitrary rejections. But, has IRDA left a loophole that can be exploited by insurance companies working with TPAs? Did the regulator do it after feedback from insurers and TPAs? All government insurance companies use TPA services and many private ones, too.
IRDA’s health insurance guidelines state, “A TPA may handle claims admissions and recommend to the insurer for the payment of the claim settlement, provided a detailed guideline is prescribed by the insurer to the TPA for claims assessments and admissions.” It means a TPA will have a say in the amount that is to be paid for a claim or even recommend claim rejection to the insurance company. So, even though the insurance company will technically settle or reject the claim, the TPA will have major role to play in it. This will surely be exploited to its maximum by insurance companies and TPAs to meet their own needs.
On 11 January 2013, IRDA had written to CEOs of all insurance companies and TPAs stating that TPAs shall “only process claims and only the insurer shall have the right to settle or repudiate a claim.” These important wordings were omitted in the subsequent exposure draft sent by IRDA to the same stakeholders on 20 February 2013. The U-turn to allow TPA to recommend payment of claim may have been the outcome of feedback from insurance companies and TPAs.
The Insurance Act does not provide any role to the intermediary to settle or recommend claims. Interestingly, IRDA in response to a PIL (public interest litigation) filed by Gaurang Damani had stated, “The role of the TPA includes processing of the claims as per the policy documents issued by the insurer. But the onus lies on the insurer for settlement of claims.” At another time, IRDA in its own affidavit further stated that TPAs are intermediaries and not “Loss Assessors” or ‘Surveyors”. If so, why give TPAs the right to recommend the amount to be paid for a claim? Why has IRDA submitted different wordings to Bombay High Court and changed wordings in the health insurance guidelines?
How does this impact the Gaurang Damani PIL? As per the Bombay High Court directive at the last hearing on 2 April 2013, Gaurang Damani has submitted the additional affidavit in the court and the same has been served to IRDA on 4 April 2013 and to Union of India on 5 April 2013. It means that the fight continues.
The additional affidavit clearly states that “TPAs were not qualified in the field and they were acting arbitrarily to deny the rightful claim of the policyholders. As illustrated in the original petition Section III—Case Studies (Exhibits C-1 to C-11). It was been also found that TPAs were whimsically rejecting or reducing the claim amount without any cogent reasons.” It further adds that the gazetted regulations take away the right of claim settlement by the TPA (line 1 of Section 12(b)(1)), however TPAs have been given authority to recommend to the insurer for payment of claim settlement. This will defeat the purpose to be achieved by the petitioner by way of PIL filed in this matter.
The prayer in the additional affidavit states, “It is the petitioner’s humble prayer that clause 12(b)(i) of the gazetted regulations be immediately rectified in the spirit of the discussions held in the high court and also in reference to the documents submitted by Respondent No. 2 (IRDA) itself, to the high court. The words of the aforesaid clause ‘recommend to the Insurer for the payment of claim settlement’ should be removed at the earliest in the interest of justice, equity and fair-play.”