Activist Anjali Damania: Who is ACB to say PIL should be disposed of?

Updated: Dec 07, 2019, 07:44 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Asks activist Anjali Damania, after the anti-corruption body issues clean chit to former minister Ajit Pawar in the Maharashtra irrigation scam

Anjali Damania
Anjali Damania

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former Water Resources Development Minister, Ajit Pawar, who has been in the limelight for the past few weeks, was cleared by the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of all allegations in the Vidarbha Irrigation scam, according to an affidavit filed by the ACB before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on November 27.

The ACB's affidavit was filed just a day before the Maha Vikas Aghadi — comprising the Sena-NCP-Congress — formed the state government on November 28. The clean chit given by the investigating agency refers to two main allegations against Pawar, in his capacity as former water resources minister and ex-officio chairman of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) from 1999 to 2009 — dishing out arbitrary cost escalations to irrigation projects and giving contractors a mobilisation advance.

'Why the hurry?'
"The court had directed the ACB to investigate 17 projects," said anti-corruption activist Anjali Damania, who was instrumental in exposing the irrigation scam. "There were a total of 302 tenders floated for these 17 projects. The ACB has investigated only 100 of them, the remaining 202 are still pending. There were also a total of 24 FIRs registered. Out of these, only 5 charge sheets have been filed. So, where is the fire? What is the hurry in giving the clean chit?" she asked.

Damania also asked whether the ACB even bothered to investigate the money trail in the case. "They (ACB) have not investigated the case in totality. They have said that the mobilisation advance given was not part of the tendering process…hence there was no financial loss," she said. According to her, it was the mobilisation advance that made the entire tendering process unfair. "How it works is that if there are five people bidding for a tender, then they will bear the entire expense for that project, and then take the money back from the government. Each bidder has to do this in his own financial capacity…so there are bidders who know how to do their work well, but won't bid for the tender because they know that they don't have the financial strength to execute the project. But if these potential bidders knew that a mobilisation advance was to be given, they would have bid and then there would have been competitive bidding for the tender," she explained.

'Probe contractors individually'
"Vijay Pandre, who was the chief executive engineer of the Irrigation Department, has come on record and alleged that these mobilisation advances were deposited in the accounts of contractors as soon as they were made L1 contractors. They then withdrew the cash, dropped it off with the minister, and only after that signed the final work order of the tender. So mobilisation advance may not have been financial loss to the Irrigation department, but that was the way kickbacks were given. The court should call for the bank statements of all the contractors to whom these mobilisation advances were given, and any large cash withdrawal following the immediate transfer of these funds to them should be investigated thoroughly. The contractors should be interrogated individually…this will establish a link to the minister," she said.

Damania also tore apart the last point mentioned in the ACB's November 27 affidavit, in which it "humbly" submitted that the case "deserves to be disposed of." "Who is the ACB to say that? Their job is to investigate the case — not give suggestions to the court. The High Court should pass strong strictures against the ACB for making such baseless statements," she said. Speaking of the political trickery that has allegedly gone behind this clean chit being issued to Pawar, she said, "I don't care who has done it, whether it is Devendra Fadnavis or the Maha Vikas Aghadi. For us, what is important is that there was a big scam and it is not being investigated because all these political parties are hand-in-glove." When asked about Fadnavis' claim that the clean chit issued to Pawar "did not happen on my watch," she said, "So? It (clean chit) could have been drafted two days before that. 'Nahi nahi' to sab bolenge…bolna bohot aasan hota hai sab ke liye."

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