Mumbai: On November 23, Bharatiya Janata Party's Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as Chief Minister of Maharashtra for the second term after lifting of President’s Rule at 5.38 a.m on the same day. Fadnavis was accompanied by Ajit Pawar, NCP leader and rebel.
Two days later, when the political tussle between BJP and three other parties -- Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress -- was on, there was news of “investigation closing down in 9 irrigation projects over alleged scam”. This was a shock to many, mainly because Ajit Pawar, who was minister for irrigation during 1999 to 2009, was under probe in the scam.
On the same day the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which was probing the matter, clarified that the closing down of nine files did not mean a clean chit to Ajit Pawar.
On November 26, after lasting for 80 hours, the Fadnavis government resigned and Ajit Pawar had no choice but to return to NCP. The newly formed Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi staked claim to form government the same evening.
The next day, (it has come to notice now) the ACB filed an affidavit in the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, clearing Ajit Pawar in all irrigation scam cases. This was on November 27!
The ACB affidavit is now before all. It says: “The chairman of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC)/Minister of Water Resources Department (Ajit in both positions) cannot be held responsible for the acts of executing agencies, as there is no legal duty on his part".
Incidentally, the irrigation scam was the most used weapon of BJP before 2014, especially targeting Ajit Pawar. BJP had given an assurance that it would probe the alleged Rs 70,000 crore scam and bring the perpetrators to justice. As per BJP’s assurance, the then newly sworn CM Fadnavis, had given investigation orders into alleged financial irregularities in awarding contracts. The order was given on December 12, 2014. It came to notice that FIRs could be lodged in 27 matters, and till now, 20 cases have been registered. But Ajit Pawar was not named in any of those.
So, the Nagpur bench, in July 2018, asked the ACB to file an affidavit on the role of Ajit Pawar in entire scam. On December 27, 2018, the then ACB chief, Sanjay Barve, said in court that Pawar had intervened in the awarding of irrigation contracts. Ironically, 11 months later, the same ACB has cleared Ajit Pawar from all the allegations.
Either way, the closing of files in nine cases took place during BJP's short second term, and now comes news of this clean chit given the very next day after Fadnavis’s resignation, raises many questions on the 'vulnerability' of institutions, mainly investigation agencies.
The entire episode has also embarrassed BJP over joining hands with Ajit Pawar, the hasty closure of nine files and now this clean chit. The high moral ground taken by BJP in the irrigation scam has come back to haunt it. Clearly, the party needs to give many answers.