Edited by Prasad Sanyal | Updated: September 25, 2012 18:33 IST
Ajit Pawar has been accused by the opposition BJP of misusing his earlier position as Water Resources Minister - an office he held for 10 years - to orchestrate a large swindle. He has denied the charges, and said that he is quitting to refute allegations that he was using his position as deputy chief minister to block an inquiry against him.
What has upset Ajit Pawar and his party, the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP, is that chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has indicated that a CBI inquiry should be conducted into the allegations. Mr Chavan is from the Congress.
He has also said that a white paper or financial statement must be shared with the Maharashtra Assembly to explain the crores that were spent on irrigation with little to show for it. The government has said in the Assembly that between 2000 and 2010, 42,000 crores were spent but only 0.1 per cent additional land was brought under irrigation. Ajit Pawar was Water Resources Minister from 1999-2009.
Yesterday, his uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar told NDTV that he supported Ajit's resignation. "He has shown great courage," the NCP leader said. He also categorically ruled out the resignation of any other NCP ministers from the Maharashtra cabinet. "We don't want to do anything to destabilise the government," he said, rejecting reports that his party would pull out of the government and provide external support to the Congress in Maharashtra.
Barely an hour later, all other NCP ministers, 19 in total, sent letters of resignation to the head of the party in Maharashtra. Their move has been interpreted as posturing on behalf of Ajit Pawar to demonstrate his influence within the NCP. "I have received a letter of resignation from Mr Ajit Pawar. He has also suggested some alternative arrangements about the two profolios he held - finance and energy. After speaking to leaders of both parties, I will take a final decision," Mr Chavan told reporters on Tuesday night.
Sources close to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan say that he was in Delhi on Monday and met with Sharad Pawar who conveyed that his party was concerned about suggestions that a CBI inquiry was needed for the irrigation scam. Mr Chavan allegedly told the NCP chief that it is hard to conceal information in an era when the Right to Information Act allows ordinary citizens to demand access to government documents.
The opposition in Maharashtra alleges that as Water Resources Minister, Ajit Pawar sanctioned inflated tenders or contracts worth 13,500 crores in Vidarbha, his party's stronghold. He allegedly changed processes to ensure that his signature was needed for every contract worth over a crore. This gave him excessive control in deciding which companies were hired by the government for irrigation projects. The BJP says he over-ruled bureaucrats who tried to correct the system.
The opposition also states that in 2009, Ajit Pawar took just three months to clear mega-projects worth Rs. 32,000 crore, without the required sign-off from the governing council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation. Some of these were sanctioned weeks before the model code of conduct kicked in - the code prevents politicians from taking decisions or announcing projects that could influence voters.
In July, NCP leaders from Maharashtra told their central leadership that they were unhappy with Mr Chavan. On record, they said the chief minister was ineffective and inaccessible but sources say the NCP was angry with Mr Chavan's attempts at a clean-up drive after a slew of financial scandals.
Another senior NCP leader, Chaggan Bhujabal, is being investigated for graft by the state's anti-corruption bureau. He allegedly misused his office to help his relatives land contracts for the reconstruction of Maharashtra Sadan, a state-owned guest house in Delhi.
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