Vijay Pandhare, who retired as chief engineer of the irrigation department in Maharashtra, was the first person to bring out in public the gross irregularities in the irrigation department, especially in awarding contracts. He had handled various state level folios at the Maharashtra Engineering Research Institute (MERI) before his retirement. As news of then irrigation minister and Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar getting clean chit came out on Friday morning (December 6), Pandhare’s disappointment with the whole episode became clearly visible.
"Those 80 hours (Devendra Fadnavis as CM and Ajit Pawar as Deputy CM) are highly suspicious. This has happened during those 80 hours. This is completely wrong and totally misleading," said Pandhare while talking to NewsClick. He further said, "Fadnavis was the one who spoke on the irrigation issue in the Assembly when he was in Opposition before 2014. But this clean chit, with the ACB (anti-corruption bureau) closing files of 9 projects is a wrong committed by Fadnavis. It was not expected from him. I am sad, but I have to say that Fadnavis is trying to hide the wrongdoings of Ajit Pawar.”
Talking about the investigation, Pandhare said that the papers are very clear in the matter. "I had submitted all the papers to Madhav Chitale committee appointed by then state government of Congress-NCP. The report of committee is also enough to understand the irregularities. For example, in part II of this report, Chitale has joined seven different points. In that, he has mentioned all the serious offences of awarding contracts. Why was it not probed by ACB?,” he questioned.
ACB has mentioned in its report that Ajit Pawar can't be held accountable in the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) related cases. However, Pandhare refuted this claim, saying that there are clear documents showing how the then government did not appoint non-government persons in those corporations and how the decisions were taken by Ajit Pawar himself. "Everything is on paper, on record. The investigation was politically motivated and that's why it couldn't reach a logical conclusion," he said.
Then CM Fadnavis had ordered an investigation on December 12, 2014, into the irrigation scam. But, five years later, Ajit Pawar has been given a clean chit. Recently, Fadnavis attempted to form the government by aligning with Ajit Pawar but failed to garner the required number of NCP MLAs as Sharad Pawar took back the entire control of legislative party of NCP. However, the crucial 80 hours when he was back in power, has led to the nearly complete shutdown of the irrigation scam cases.