Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why did it take so long to resign, Ajit Pawar?

Why did it take so long to resign, Ajit Pawar?
 Clean Media Correspondent

Mumbai, Sept 25 (CMC) Such is the scale of the irrigation scam in Maharashtra that it merits nothing short of a CBI probe or an SIT-probe monitored by the courts.

Consider this: In 2007, Maharashtra’s former inspector general of police SM Mushrif had told newspapers that while he was posted as the Superintendent of Police, Anti-Corruption Bureau in 1998, he had sought permission to probe into a bid by irrigation contractor Avinash Bhosale for a Rs 1,00 crore project in Satara. That permission was denied by the Maharashtra government, said Mushrif.

For quite some time now, NCP president Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar has been enveloped in thick clouds of suspicion that have raised serious doubts about his integrity. Therefore, his abrupt resignation as Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister in the wake of the irrigation scam does not come as any surprise. More than a white paper on the heavy investments and poor returns from irrigation projects in Maharashtra, what’s required is a probe into who benefitted from the wasted investments in the state. More because Ajit Pawar has controlled the irrigation department for more than 10 years since 1999.

Isn’t it a matter of extraordinary coincidence that even as of this moment, Ajit Pawar resides in a bungalow in Pune that was once owned by Bhosale – easily the wealthiest irrigation contractor from Maharashtra.

Representational image. Reuters.

Bhosale’s bungalow ‘Jijai’ in the Bhosale Nagar area of Shivajinagar made it to the headlines in April 2011 when the Bombay High Court questioned its ownership. The mention of this bungalow had come up during the probe into the Adarsh Housing Society scam. It was not only the residence of Ajit Pawar’s wife but also of two others who had applied for membership to the Adarsh Society- Avinash Bhosale’s father Nivrutti and sister-in-law Jayashree.

Pawar was then forced to clarify to the press that he had rented this bungalow since 2009 and had later purchased it. He clarified that he had nothing to do with Nivrutti Bhosale who had got membership to the Adarsh Society.

Pawar’s proximity to Bhosale certainly merits attention because of Bhosale’s profile. On 29 May 2007, the Times of India reported on Bhosale under the headline ‘How Bhosale milked the MKVDC’ (Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation) and in the same month, Bhosale was in the news when he was detained by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence at Mumbai international airport for walking past the green channel without declaring possession of items worth Rs 10 lakh, for which he was liable to pay customs duty.

Bhosale’s palatial residence also makes news of its own as it is the only one of its kind in the city with helicopters parked in the premises.

In 2002, Ajit Pawar, as irrigation minister for Krishna Valley Development corporation Ltd (MKVDC) had taken the extraordinary decision of approving a 30-year lease agreement between the MKVDC and the Lake City Corporation (the previous avatar of Lavasa Corporation) for constructing mini-dams in the backwaters of the Varasgaon dam in Pune.

The details of this unusual agreement which enormously benefitted the Lavasa project came to light only in December 2005, when documents were secured under the Right to Information Act, 2005, by a citizen-activist.

In 2006 when Pawar was asked about conflict of interest issues as the Lavasa Corporation had substantial shareholdings by Pawar’s daughter Supriya and her husband Sadanand, Ajit Pawar had replied, “Anyone can have shares in a company. While entering into an agreement or signing an MoU, no minister sees who the shareholders in the company are. We only see what is legal and good for the people. I am not aware that Supriya Sule has shares in Lavasa. Neither Supriya nor Saheb (Sharad Pawar) ever influenced my decision.”

One of the best things that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has done is to draw attention to the marginal rise of 0.1% in irrigation capacity in the last decade even though the state had spent nearly Rs 70,000 crore on irrigation projects. Chavan has estimated that the state will require another Rs 80,000 crore to complete the incomplete irrigation projects which are reeling under a steep rise in prices. It is only fitting that Maharashtra gets a white paper on the status of irrigation and make the people responsible for the mess, accountable for it too.

In the backdrop of all this, many would find it amusing to hear NCP president Sharad Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule say on TV that they are “proud” of Ajit Pawar for having resigned as deputy chief to allow a fair probe into the irrigation sector in the state.

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