Tracing the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam: From 2012 to 2016

Retaining wall of Gosikhurd RBC slid down from its location (Photo: Jan Manch)

Above: Retaining wall of Gosikhurd RBC slid down from its location  Photo: Jan Manch

Aftermath of the irrigation scam exposed in 2012 in Maharashtra still continues. Roots of the scam were pointed out time and again by Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) and also by several other committees set up by the Government. The scam was finally unveiled in May 2012 with a combined effort of several whistle blowers from inside & outside the government as civil society groups including SANDRP. Unjustified cost overruns, forged tenders, tweaking the norms of tendering process, incomplete projects laden with inferior quality work were brought to light and the unholy nexus of corrupt leaders, government officials and contractors became visible like never before.

Ruling coalition of Congress and NCP made every effort to shield those involved in the scam. A white paper was brought out justifying all the irregularities found in irrigation projects. Even the Special Investigation Team appointed under the Chairpersonship of Madhavrao Chitale to investigate the cost overruns chose not to probe into the modus operandi of the scam and blamed ‘hike in market prices’ instead. ACB inquiry ordered by Chief Minister of the new Government in December 2014 in response to a petition filed by Jan Manch- a Nagpur based voluntary organization has been proceeding at snails pace.

Two petitions were filed in 2012 against corruption and cost escalations in irrigation projects. Anjali Damania filed public interest litigation (PIL) in April 2012 against financial irregularities in 15 dams in Konkan Region and Jan Manch a voluntary organization from Nagpur filed a PIL seeking probe in cost escalations of VIDC projects (Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation).High court rejected several objections raised against both the PILs. After the ACB inquiry was announced by the state government PIL filed by Jan Manch was disposed off by high court in Dec 2015 while granting liberty to Jan Manch to approach the court again if they were not satisfied with the probe. In August 2015 Bombay High Court made it clear that PIL filed by Anjali Damania still stands valid even if the ACB inquiry has started.

Not Happy with the ACB enquiry proceeding with snail’s pace, Jan Manch has approached the high court again. Several important events kept unfolding ever since the scam was unearthed 2012. SANDRP traces these events. First part covers the timeline of irrigation scam and the second part covers timeline of PIL filed by Jan Manch & the ACB inquiry.

PART I: Timeline of Irrigation Scam

Year Happenings Source
Early Signs
March 2007 Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) highlighted several irregularities in Gosikhurd project. CAG questioned the reduced benefit to cost ratio, unnecessary land acquisition, excessive mobilization advance offered to contractors and execution of project before obtaining environmental clearance. CAG Performance Audit Report March 2007 chapter 3 p.39
2008 In 2008, the then water resources secretary VB Gaikwad wrote to the government about irregular revision of tenders. Indian Express Sep 26 2012
2010 Committees appointed by State Government like an enquiry committee headed by the then chief engineer H.T Mendigiri and one man committee of Nandkumar Vadnere, retired Principal Secretary, Water Resources Department reported wide ranging illegalities, right from the tendering process in the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) from the financial years 2006-2007 to 2009- 2010. The Hindu Oct 07 2012
2011 CAG report of March 2011 which audited performance of VIDC highlighted incomplete projects, improper planning, ad-hoc changes in design, irregular tendering process, disregard for environmental laws and dissatisfactory rehabilitation & resettlement of project affected. CAG Report no. 2 for year ended 31 March 2011 Chapter II p.64
2012 On February 25 2012 Shri Vijay Pandhare, serving as a chief engineer in Water Resources Department sent a letter to CM as well as Governor alleging corruption and irregularities asking for a probe into budgets of all five irrigation boards in the state. The Hindustan Times Sep 11 2012
Economic Survey confirms activists’ allegations
March 2012 Economic survey of Maharashtra 2011-12 stated that despite spending 72,000 Cr increase in the irrigated area of the state increased by 0.1% Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2011-12 p.3
Irregularities in construction of dams highlighted by Civil Society Groups
March-May 2012 Anjali Damania of India Against Corruption exposed the corruption involved in Kondhane dam, as also some others. SANDRP along with Shramik Mukti Sanghatana highlighted irregularities in the environmental clearance process of Kalu, Kondhane, Balganga, Barvi & Lower Penganga dams.

Anjali Damania filed a PIL against Kondhane dam in Bombay High Court in April 2012.

Campaign against more than 10 large dams in the Western Ghats around Mumbai, submerging more than 7000 Hectares of Western Ghats forest without confirming to environmental procedures like Environment Impact Assessment, Public Hearing, Environmental Clearance or Forest Clearance was raised by civil society groups such as Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, SANDRP & India Against Corruption.

A brain storming meet of these civil society groups was organized on May 04 2012 to discuss these issues and think a way forward.

SANDRP

 

SANDRP Press note

Irrigation Scam Exposed
May 04 2012 The then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, declared that a white paper on irrigation would be published soon. The Hindu May 04 2012
May 05 2012 Shri Pandhare wrote a detailed letter on May 5, 2012 to Chief Minister, Governor, Secretary and Principal Secretary Water Resource Department giving specific instances of projects and wrongdoings in Konkan, north Maharashtra, Vidarbha and the failure of the lift irrigation schemes. Hindustan Times Sep 13 2012 
Aug 2012 Jan Manch filed PIL demanding probe against cost escalations in the VIDC projects. It said that in year 2009 within just seven months, cost of 38 projects of VIDC increased by 20,050.06 Cr. the original estimated cost which was 6672.27 Cr reached 26722.33 Cr. 30 out of these 38 schemes were granted hurried approval within just four days and their cost was later revised. The cost escalations were 33 times the original cost after sanctioning. First Post Aug 30 2016

 

Sep 21 2012 Shri Pandhare wrote an open letter to Engineers’ Mahasangh pointing out unviable projects, design flaws, poor construction and inadequate safety of several dams SANDRP

 

Sep 25 2012 Sept 26, 2012 NCP’s Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar resigned, since he held the water resources portfolio during 1999 to 2009. (He rejoined in December 2012) SANDRP

 

Nov 2012 The white paper in the irrigation scam justifying all the costs incurred and cost escalations in projects exposed during irrigation scam was brought out. Water Resources Ministry countered charges of corruption by listing project-wise reasons for cost overruns and delays. First Post Nov 29 2012
Report on Irrigation Scam by Special Investigation Team
December 31 2012 Special Investigation Team (SIT), chaired by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale formed on December 31 2012. SANDRP
March 2014 SIT report made public in June 2014 refused to look at the modus operandi of the corruption involved in the scam, in the process of calling tenders and accepting contracts saying that it was not a part of their mandate. All in all the report concluded that the main reasons for cost escalation of projects has been rise in market prices and virtually gave a clean chit to former irrigation minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar. SANDRP
Open inquiry into scam
December 2014 State Government promised an open inquiry into the scam and an oral statement was made by advocate general of Maharashtra into the court regarding this. The court however gave liberty to Jan Manch to approach again if they were not satisfied with the probe. TOI Dec 13 2014
Aug 28 2015 The Bombay High Court refused applications of F A Enterprises and F A Constructions to dismiss the PIL filed against them by Anjali Damania and three others alleging irregularities in tendering process and substandard construction for 15 dam projects in Maharashtra saying the issue was serious and monitoring was needed. The Economic Times

Timeline of PIL filed by Jan Manch & ACB Inquiry

Date Event Source
Aug 2012 Jan Manch files PIL in High Court

Jan Manch filed PIL in the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court (HC) in August 2012, demanding a probe into cost overruns.

TOI
Sep 08 2012 HC sends notice to Maharashtra State Government

Following the petition by Jan Manch high court issued notices to the central and state governments allowing three weeks to the respondents to file their replies.

TOI
April 16 2014 High Court rejects VIDC plea against the PIL

High court rejected objections by VIDC to two PILs against irregularities in VIDC projects.
VIDC argued that the PILs were not maintainable since High Court could not order a CBI inquiry without the petitioners going to police and the magistrate. About other demands, VIDC contended these must be first made to the government. The petitioners never approached the government it said.
Rejecting the plea high court said that the court can always devise own procedure when fundamental rights are at stake and the law doesn’t prohibit effective procedure or tool to deal with such situations.

Indian Express
Aug 20 2014 The Supreme Court rejects VIDC plea

State and VIDC approached the Supreme Court with a special leave petition filed by the State, challenging last year’s decision of the Nagpur bench of the high court. The high court had observed that prima facie, there was substance in the issues raised in the PIL that needed to be investigated.
The Supreme Court also upheld the high court’s decision, stating it would not interfere on the preliminary objections raised by the state government.

TOI
Dec 13 2014 CM gives nod to ACB probe

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis  gave nod for the investigation against former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and former water resources minister Sunil Tatkare in the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam along with roles of all contractors and officials involved in the irrigation scam.

Indian Express
Feb 21 2015 Confusion about ACB probe

As confusion remained on whether the order covered VIDC or not, the ACB sent back the file to the government for clarifications. Finally, a fresh order clearly specifying the mandate was signed by the chief minister and sent to the ACB.

TOI
Feb 27 2015 Jan Manch filed complaint against contractors of Gosikhurd

Jan Manch filed a complaint against a group of contractors who had bagged an order in the Gosikhurd dam project. It also handed documentary evidence proving how costs were fudged to the benefit of contractors.
Jan Manch indicated that if ACB’s does not take necessary action following the complaint they may approach the court with more evidences.

TOI
Sep 15 2015 Jan Manch files  complaint against another contractor

Jan Manch filed yet another complaint in the case alleging that one of the firms under scanner — D Thakkar Constructions Private Limited — had its sister concern SN Thakkar Construction as a competitor in every bidding process when it bagged contracts from VIDC. Both firms have members of the same family at the helm.

TOI
Jan 29 2016 Jan Manch filed another PIL

Unhappy with the dismal pace of ACB inquiry Jan Manch filed another PIL in Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court demanding CBI probe into the matter, work audits of irrigation projects and expedited completion of incomplete projects.

TOI
Feb 23 2016 First FIR by ACB

ACB on February 23 registered first FIR in irrigation scam against partner of F A Constructions and four of his family members, a former chief engineer and ex-Super intending engineer of VIDC in respect of Ghodajhari branch canal between the stretch 42.60 km to 88km which is a component of Gosikhurd national irrigation project.

The Hitwada
March 04 2016 State Gov submits progress report on ACB probe

Maharashtra government submitted progress made by the ACB in the irrigation scam probe before the Bombay high court and also informed the court about next FIR. It also said that the entire investigation would be completed in six months.

The Hitwada
March 11 2016 During PIL of Jan Manch the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court directed Maharashtra government not to release payment of 32.55 crore to  MKK Tapi Prestrade Product Limited, the contractor of Mokhabardi Lift Irrigation scheme which is a part of Gosikhurd project. VIDC had failed to challenge verdict of arbitrator appointed to solve dispute over design of scheme. Counsel of Jan Manch Firoz Mirza argued that Tapi Prestrade had obtained contract through unfair means, by using forged documents, its contract could be cancelled at any stage. TOI
March 30 2016 ACB filed second FIR

ACB at Nagpur filed second FIR naming nine persons, including two retired VIDC officials and five directors of a private joint venture firm. A serving accounts officer of VIDC too has been named in the FIR which relates to the tail canal construction of Mokhabardi lift irrigation scheme under Gosikhurd dam. Mumbai-based firm M/s D Thakkar and its JV partner M/s RJ Shah have been accused of rigging the tender process to bag the 56 crore contract with the help of VIDC officers.

TOI
April 01 2016 Plea for stay on FIR rejected by high court

High court rejected the application moved on behalf of contractor-firm seeking stay to FIR lodged by ACB against Shah and company and M/s D Thakkar Constructions Private Limited and other VIDC officials.

The Hitwada
June 10 2016 Court passes strictures on pace of ACB probe

High Court while hearing a PIL filed by Jan Manch demanding CBI probe into irrigation scam sought response from the authorities about work audit of all irrigation projects to ascertain the quality of work done and amount spent so far.
Court also  passed strictures on laxity and casual approach displayed by ACB, granted last chance to State to file reply about work audit of projects.

The Hitwada
June 24 2016 Misleading affidavit filed by VIDC

An affidavit was filed in Bombay high court on behalf of State Government and signed by the VIDC officer remained silent on the allegations of shoddy work, incomplete work, tweaking of rules to favour politically connected contractors. The court passed strictures saying that VIDC on affidavit made an outlandish claim that 6,23,083 hectare irrigation potential has been created without uttering a word of remorse for the huge loss caused to public exchequer due to totally arbitrary and unjustified cost-escalation.

The Hitwada
July 15 2016 Affidavit filed by VIDC admits the sub- standard work of LBC

VIDC officially admitted in an affidavit that 23 km long work of left bank canal lining of Gosikhurd project was not upto the mark, its alignment was not proper, and hence contractor was directed to redo the entire lining work at his own cost.
For the first time VIDC agreed that initially payment was released for sub-standard and non-existent work of left bank canal lining and it was an error.
High Court directed the State WRD Secretary to file a detailed affidavit within two weeks regarding action against Pawar, Tatkare and contractors involved in scam and outcome of open enquiry conducted by ACB pursuant to directives of Chief Minister.

The Hitwada
July 30 2016 27 tenders cancelled by Mah Govt

The state government ordered cancellation of 27 tenders worth over Rs300 crore granted to private contractors by VIDC. So far no work had begun on any of these tenders worth Rs160 crore pertaining to Mokhabardi Lift Irrigation Scheme and Ghodazari branch canal, both part of Gosikhurd Project.

TOI
Aug 27 2016 VIDC delays response to ACB queries

Nagpur ACB was not in position to submit the final report of the investigations of VIDC to the director general of ACB or file an FIR since VIDC has not reverted with answers to many questions posed by them. VIDC said relevant documents are being checked before giving an opinion.

TOI
Aug 31 2016 Mah Gov scraps 94 tenders

Maharashtra government scrapped 94 tenders awarded in 14 irrigation projects being probed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Konkan, Vidarbha and Nashik.

Twelve tenders scrapped in Konkan region, while one contract in Nashik and 81 in Vidarbha stand cancelled. All irrigation works in Vidarbha region relate to the Gosikhurd National Irrigation Project

So far 4 FIRs have been filed by ACB.

Indian Express
Sep 03 2016 High Level Committee appointed to probe Mokhabardi LIS

Maharashtra Government on Friday informed the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court that works carried at Mokhabardi Lift Irrigation scheme are being probed and so also the role of officers who failed to challenge the Rs 32.55 crore arbitration award in favour of Jalgaon-based MKK Tapi Prestrade Product Limited.

A high-level committee will probe the matter, informed the Acting Advocate General Rohit Deo. The Government also promised to place on record status of probe into irregularities into irrigation project before the High Court by evening.

TOI

Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP, amrutapradhan@gmail.com

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