Irrigation scam: The men behind ACB's flip-flops

Updated: Dec 07, 2019, 08:36 IST | Faizan Khan, Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Current Mumbai police chief Sanjay Barve and the hot contender to succeed him, Param Bir Singh, are at the centre of two contradicting affidavits filed a year apart in the VIDC scam

Ajit Pawar
Ajit Pawar

Maharashtra's Anti-Corruption Bureau has absolved former Maharashtra water resource development minister Ajit Pawar in the multi-crore Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) scam in a fresh affidavit filed on Thursday.

Current Mumbai police Commissioner Sanjay Barve, who was then the Maharashtra DGP, had on November 26, 2018, filed the first affidavit before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court in response to a PIL filed by NGO Janmanch. In that affidavit, Barve has said: "It is observed that the minister in-charge of the water resources department shoves the responsibility on to the officers. In the Gosikhurd and Jigaon projects, Ajit Pawar had signed extension of tenders himself."

Thursday's affidavit, however, said: "The chairmen of the VIDC/minister of WRD cannot be held responsible for the acts of executing agencies, as there is no legal duty on his part." Three months after filing that affidavit, Barve, a 1987 batch IPS officer, was appointed as Mumbai police chief on February 28, 2019. The BJP-Sena government of Devendra Fadnavis in August gave him a three-month extension, which was further stretched last week by Uddhav Thackeray's Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

Thursday's affidavit was filed by Superintendent of Police, ACB-Nagpur, Rashmi Nandekar. The ACB is currently headed by Param Bir Singh, who is a contender to succeed Barve, who will retire in February 2020 after serving out two extensions. The affidavit clearing the NCP strongman is the latest in a series of developments that began with Pawar taking oath as deputy chief minister, defying his uncle Sharad Pawar and siding with the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis. On November 25, the ACB closed nine cases in the irrigation scam. Singh said in a statement that it was routine process and that the cases had nothing to do with Ajit Pawar.

Pawar ditched Fadnavis, but returned to the NCP, which is now a crucial part of the ruling MVA government. Thursday's affidavit, which contradicts most points in the 2018 affidavit filed by Barve, said: "There is no evidence on record to say that the secretary of the department had briefed the minister of water resources department about not accepting the liability of the tender work."

Barve's 2018 affidavit had said: "Ajit Pawar claims he took decisions based upon the recommendations of secretary-level officer and that most of the decisions are taken at field level. It is also observed that the Minister in-charge of Water Resource Department shoves the responsibility on to the officers, taking cover of Rule 14 of Maharashtra Government Rules of Business and Instructions. Hence it became necessary to examine the roles and responsibilities of the officials and the minister of the Department in. Ajit Pawar, who had overall responsibility of his department, stated it was the duty of the Secretary/Executive Director to vet the files and ensure that the procedure was followed. As discussed earlier, all note-sheets pertaining to sanction prior to grant of work-commencement-order and mobilisation advance were signed by Ajit Pawar."

Ajit Pawar gets yet another clean chit, this time in another PIL filed with respect to the irrigation scam in projects in Amravati division. The affidavit also filed on 27th of November.

The second affidavit filed by Superintendent of Police ACB Amravati, Shrikant Dhivare, the affidavit states that, There are some procedural lapses, departimental irregularities found but these are the lapses on the part of executing officials of the tender work,the Chairman of the VIDC/Minister of WRD cannot be held responsible for the acts of executing officials.

It is further submitted that, in view of evidence collected during the course of enquiry/investigation, no criminal liability is disclosed on the part of the Ajit Pawar.

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