Just days after a white paper on irrigation in Maharashtra practically gave a clean chit to Nationalist Congress party (NCP) leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, sources have told NDTV that he will be sworn in tomorrow in the Maharashtra cabinet.
Ajit Pawar had resigned from the post of deputy chief minister in September over allegations that he orchestrated a 72,000 crore scam during an earlier ten-year stint as the state's Irrigation Minister.
Earlier this year, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had announced that the government would come out with a white paper on irrigation after the resignation of Mr Pawar. The white paper would be tabled in the state legislature during the winter session starting at Nagpur from December 10.
Sources in the NCP say that the report clears 'misconceptions' about Mr Pawar's role in an alleged Rs. 70,000 crore irrigation scam that put the state through days of political turbulence. Mr Pawar was irrigation minister for 10 years from 1999 to 2009. The irrigation ministry, which has put together the report, remains with the NCP. The report details irrigation projects in the last 10 years, covering most of Mr Pawar's time as the minister.
The alleged irrigation scam was uncovered by whistleblowers within and outside the government. Records in the state assembly too pointed to gross mismanagement of funds, since the thousands of crores that were apparently spent on irrigation projects in the state yielded only a 0.1 per cent increased in irrigated land. The state's auditor had questioned delays, cost-overruns and poor construction in the projects. Mr Pawar was also accused of over-riding objections by bureaucrats after a change in the tendering process meant he would have to sign off on any contract above Rs. 1 crore.
Sources have told NDTV that the status report is likely to counter the main allegation of only 0.1 per cent increase in irrigated land by saying that the increase has been 5.17 per cent in the last 10 years. It is also likely to say that cultivable land in the state has increased by 73 per cent in the same period.
About the figure of Rs. 70,000 crore, the report is understood to have broken it down to expenditures on irrigation projects from 1962 totalling to Rs. 72,000 crore. Of this, the report is likely to say, the bulk or Rs. 40,000 crore was spent between 2000 and 2012, during most of which Mr Pawar was irrigation minister. Rs. 30,000 crore will be shown as being spent on irrigation and Rs. 10,000 crore to acquire forests and administrative costs, sources have claimed to NDTV.
It is also likely to deflect the charge of cost escalation, which is at the core of the scam alleged by the whistleblower as well as pointed out by the state auditor, by saying other states have higher escalations.
Finally, the sources have claimed, the charge that Mr Pawar cornered the right to allocate contracts for more than Rs. 1 crore will be countered by saying that the governor during the time of the BJP-Shiv Sena government had made the rule that such contracts be cleared by the minister and the irrigation development council board.