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What happened behind closed doors?

A closed-door meeting between Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and NCP leader Ajit Pawar yesterday may help the Democratic Front government tide over the tartness in the alliance that escalated following the former deputy chief minister facing allegations in the multi-crore irrigation scam. Pawar resigned from the cabinet last week over the charges.

Ajit Pawar and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan
In a jovial mood? Ajit Pawar and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan 

When asked about the matter, the CM confirmed having met Pawar but declined to elaborate. It was rumoured that both leaders were not on talking terms over the last fortnight.

“There were certain matters to be discussed and a few officers from the state government were also present. Later, we (he and Pawar) had a separate meeting,” said the CM while chatting with a group of media persons in his Mantralaya chamber. Contrary to his usual demeanour ever since Pawar decided to quit the cabinet, Chavan seemed to be in a jovial mood yesterday.

Though the CM was unwilling to explain what exactly transpired at the meeting, sources say the government white paper on irrigation may not see the light of day any time soon. The reason being given is that the CM did not wish to imply that white paper was a chargesheet over the maladies in the sector.

The CM responded to the grouse of leaders from opposition parties over the fact that while an expenditure of Rs 72,000 crore has been incurred from 2000 to 2010, there has been a 0.1-per cent increase in irrigated area for the state. Sources from Democratic Front said the stance adopted by NCP was based on a white paper on the state economy published in December 1999. At the time, the paper was deemed a chargesheet to blame the Shiv Sena-BJP government of the period 1995-99.

Political circles are rife with reports that the two prominent leaders of the ruling alliance confabulated over the present political scenario and alleged attempts to fault NCP for wrongdoings in the irrigation sector.

On being asked whether he would order a high-level probe over the allegations of corruption in the irrigation sector, the CM did not offer a clear response. When his attention was drawn towards the letters written by BJP president Nitin Gadkari and MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre to union water resources minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, requesting early release of funds — allegedly to benefit contractors — the CM appeared to be backing the leaders.

The letters may have been written in the backdrop of central government’s decision to curtail funding under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program, from Rs 2,200 crore to Rs 1,300 crore, the CM said. When asked whether this happened due to a visit by Central Water Commission and its report on the Gosikhurd project, no clear response came from Chavan.

The CM also denied having said in Srinagar recently that the whole problem in irrigation began with NCP ministers’ decisions to oblige party workers-turned-contractors. “I haven’t said anything like that during the Youth Congress meet,” Chavan said.

On children’s homes Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the issue of a hike in the government grants given to children’s homes was currently being deliberated upon. “We will look into the report submitted by State Commission for Protection of Child Rights over the shoddy functioning of children’s homes,” he said when asked for a response. MiD DAY had on Thursday divulged (‘Govt audit blows lid off children’s homes mafia’) details of the commission report that has recommended immediate closure of 389 such homes in five districts of Marathwada region.

The government has already shut down 90 children’s homes, said the CM, adding, over 1,000 children’s homes were sanctioned in recent years within a very short span. When told about the recommendations of the commission, he promised to look into them. 

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