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Medha Patkar-led NAPM claims to have unearthed startling evidence on the involvement of Ajit Pawar, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Gopinath Munde, Sunil Deshmukh, MLA, Vijay Vadettiwar in the irrigation project scandal. NAPM has demanded an independent Commission of Inquiry and punishment of the guilty
A startling revelation by Medha Patkar’s National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) says that top Maharashtra politicians have been direct beneficiaries in the irrigation project scandal. The escalating cost of Maharashtra's irrigation projects has cost crores of rupees to the exchequer while bringing no relief to ordinary persons and farmers in the drought prone districts of Maharashtra. According to the NAPM press release, documents, diaries and papers seized from the residences of the director of Mahalaxmi Infraprojects (MIL), Dhirendra Anant Bhat, one of the parties to the scam, show fine details of money paid during the pre-tendering process for garnering the contracts. Documents seized from Bhatt also include details of money paid to the technical experts and officials in the Irrigation Department, Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation and Krishna Valley Development Corporation and the Tembhu project in Western Maharashtra.
The names of the beneficiaries were revealed and included well known politicians, including Ajit Pawar who shot into notoriety for his disgusting “urine” remarks (Ajit Pawar’s Rs70,000 crore uri'nation’). Other beneficiaries were former BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Gopinath Munde, Sunil Deshmukh, MLA, Vijay Vadettiwar and their associates. Last year, when the irrigation scam came out, Gosi Khurd was one of the projects listed. The NAPM has uncovered the following, when investigation carried out by the Income Tax department on MIL showed Rs200 crore as ‘investment’, in 2011, the truth was discovered regarding “speed money” to powerful politicians.
Here is what the NAPM says in its press release:
• Details of ‘payments’ worth Rs43.85 crore were obtained from DA Bhat who ultimately admitted, and so did the chairman and managing director of MIL, Ravindra D Shinde that those payments ranging from Rs1 lakh to crores to each of the persons named by initials or short forms, with designations or nick names, were indeed made during the period of 2-3 years until the raid on 23 September 2009 and thereafter.
• A reading of the detailed note on Tembhu seized during the raid shows that the same MIL has tendered cost of the material to be supplied for the project increased by 60% of the real market cost. This increase, shown as ‘overheads’ amounts to 26.7% of the cost, that comes to about Rs105 crore, admitted by the director Mr Bhat specially entrusted with “operation distribution” to get contracts, get bills sanctioned, to obtain other clearances and keep all, even the each others’ opponents, happy.
• In just one branch canal project, with an estimated cost of Rs287 crore, ‘Dada’, also named as AP in certain seized pages, with amounts and details such as dates tallying with each other, took the largest of the share, Rs27.50 crore i.e. 10% of the total project estimate – the ‘normal’ rate for ‘speed money’ popularly known and taken as indispensable! This amount was shared as 50-50 by the two partner firms, one the assessor, MIL and its IT venture partner, M/s BT Patil & Sons Belgaum Construction Company. There is also a mention of ‘AB’ who invested a part of the first year’s (2006-07) unexplained Business Expenses of Rs200 lakh i.e. Rs2 crore, divided into 50% as assistance to and for each of the JV Partner firms!
• Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde were also paid about Rs 50 Lakh and Rs 20 Lakh respectively.
• Officials of MoEF – Ministry of Environment and Forest as well as the Darda family also seem to have received their share.
• Gosikhurd Dam project of which right bank branch canal of Ghodziri is under scanner as well. Left bank canal has became a mess with Nitesh Bhangadia, present MLC, BJP, another politician contractor getting his due score while Ghodziri branch with the above ‘entanglements’ is still far from complete, with water yet to reach Asolamendha tank, the old tank of 1940’s yet to be expanded, 11 more villages planned to be submerged for the same and irrigation benefits yet not obtained to “lack of funds” for the minor network!
• One more project details, without identification are found to indicate that 14.5% of the total Rs633 crore, bill sanctioned, i.e. Rs92 crore are kept for doling out over and above the official/legitimate profit.
The NAPM report alleges, on the basis on analysis of documents, that the percentage almost fixed and estimated since the beginning, which escalates the project cost by at least the same amount as “well—planned”. Furthermore, the delays, irrespective of “speed money” obviously are a part of the game that “get, set and go”, only when the shares are obtained. And further official escalation in the cost also then becomes a demand. The press release stated, “The people of Vidarbha, Maharashtra are surely made fools and not the water but ‘milk’ from the project—cows diverted!”
More pertinently, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had come up with its report that made references to Tembhu Large Life Diversion Project and Ghodziri which has implications for the ongoing scam. According to the NAPM press release, the report of the Deputy Commissioner refers to the Tembhu Large Lift Diversion Project, started in 1999 but lying behind by years, even when the oustees of Wang—Marathwadi and other related projects are being drowned and displaced, since years in the name of water for Tembhu!
However, no action has been taken so far despite sufficient evidence given by NAPM. The NAPM states, “It’s obvious that this assessment order could be sufficient to take action against the assessed, and receivers too could be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, for receipt of “pecuniary advantage”. However, the Judicial Authority of Commissioner–I-T, investigation was approached by the assessor and assessment order gave a partially clean chit!”
Furthermore, it also states that, “the Appellate report too, however, does not deny the expenditure as “speed money” which would be an adequate basis to act. Who will bell the cat, may we ask? The matter is still with the I-T - Appellate Tribunal, Pune (ITAT) taking months if not years and there is no money for maintaining agency to ‘speed’ the investigation. Meanwhile, Mahalakshmi Infra projects continue to progress and be involved in implementing projects.”
The NAPM has demanded for a committee of enquiry to investigate and take action against those responsible for the scam. It said, “We demand and assert a need to appoint an impartial, independent Commission of Enquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, chaired by a judge with integrity and honesty. Investigation into all projects - small and large: dam, canal or lifts by calling for all data, documents, files, summoning anyone concerned including ministers and the chief minister and relying upon a special Investigation Team (SIT) but also assisted by state and central agencies such as Directorate of Enforcement, ACB, EOW, CVC and I-T dept.”
NAPM continues to search details into the water scam feel ashamed of not only the vulgar remarks but more immoral, criminal acts of corruption – misusing and mismanaging public money and resources including water, when we are faced with the worst drought in decades.