ACB: Ajit Pawar has no criminal liability in irrigation scam

Updated: 21 December, 2019 08:25 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

The ACB chief has also filed an affidavit endorsing the views of his subordinates in the Vidarbha irrigation corruption charges

Ajit Pawar
Ajit Pawar

The state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has said that NCP leader Ajit Pawar has no "criminal liability" in the irrigation scam that is being probed for seven years. ACB chief Param Bir Singh has endorsed affidavits filed by the unit heads in Vidarbha who had earlier told the Bombay High Court in their periodic review that Pawar, the then water resources minister, was clean in a R70,000-crore scam.

The affidavits had created a political storm because they were filed after Ajit Pawar had taken oath with former CM Devendra Fadnavis, before resigning in 80 hours. The BJP CM had denied having cleared the ACB affidavit that was part of the government's submission in the PIL hearing. Singh's endorsement was filed before the Nagpur bench of the High Court on Friday. It said, "As regards the role of Ajit Pawar, no criminal liability is disclosed during the course of inquiry/ investigation by the Special Investigation Team [SIT]."

Interestingly, former ACB chief Sanjay Barve had placed a contradictory view before the high court, saying that Pawar was responsible in the scam and had intervened in awarding contracts for major irrigation projects. Then the BJP government was in power. Pawar who returned to NCP is expected to be sworn in as a senior minister in Maha Vikas Aghadi government, which has planned a cabinet expansion for the last week of December.

However, Singh's affidavit (signed on November 19) said that his predecessor's affidavit was based on the information available a year ago. He said that he has personally studied all the information that was made available to him recently and endorsed and verified the affidavits that were submitted by the Amravati and Nagpur SPs and head of SIT who had given Pawar a clean chit last month. These findings had absolved Pawar of the charges and held officials responsible for the alleged irregularities. Likewise, the affidavits of his subordinates, Singh has urged the court to dispose of the PILs because all allegations were being investigated in a transparent manner.

'Was done at ACB level'
The affidavits of ACB's Nagpur SP had squarely blamed the officials for not informing the then VIDC chairman and water resources minister Ajit Pawar. The accusations were about cost escalations and payment of mobilisation advance to the contractors. The Prithviraj Chavan-led Congress-NCP government had issued a white paper on the water resources projects between 1999 and 2009. Pawar had resigned as the DCM and come back after the white paper was published. The BJP, which was in Opposition then, had made a big issue out of it and accused Ajit of defrauding the government. It had become the election plank in 2014 that contributed significantly to the BJP's victory. The BJP government had then instituted an inquiry in the allegations.

The new affidavit was filed a day after the second Fadnavis government went out. "The affidavit was not submitted to me or anyone in the government. It was done at the ACB level. I had resigned a day earlier," said Fadnavis, who late last month was also accused of giving a clean chit to Pawar in the nine tenders immediately after taking over the reign a second time with support from NCP leader, who had assured the backing of 54 MLAs. The ACB had then clarified that Pawar's name was not mentioned in the cases that were closed.

Fadnavis had said earlier that the revised affidavits wouldn't stand the court's scrutiny. He said on Friday that the then minister (Pawar) was also responsible because he had signed the papers and cannot be absolved of his role in the scam. The leader of opposition later tweeted: "This is a summary affidavit which contradicts the 2018 affidavit (which was elaborative on how exactly things happened). It does not provide any supporting evidence. Executive director (VIDC) is not equivalent to the Secretary of water resources department. Officials alone cannot be held responsible. We do not think that the High Court will accept this affidavit and if required we will intervene in the court too."

No. of tenders in which Pawar was given a clean chit by ACB

Rs 70k crORE
The magnitude of the irrigation scam

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First Published: 21 December, 2019 08:18 IST

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