For Maharashtra dam contract, bribes paid, say documents; 'AP' tops list

For Maharashtra dam contract, bribes paid, say documents; 'AP' tops list

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Mumbai:  40 pages recovered during income tax raids list in Kolhapur  seem to corroborate what many activists in Maharashtra have been alleging: that across parties, politicians accept bribes in exchange for handing over expensive contracts for irrigation projects like dams and canals. The projects are rarely completed.  Farmers pay the price.

The documents seized by income tax officers in 2009 appears to list bribes worth Rs 44 crores paid against a contract worth nearly Rs 280 crores. 

Across pages, a list of names is entered for bribes that have been paid. Another hand-written document shows the names of leaders, against figures that show how much they were paid and how much remains to be paid.

Topping the list of alleged beneficiaries is 'AP' and 'Dada' which are interchangeably used.  For a total of 27.5 crores.  Different amounts  of money are entered for 'AP' and 'Dada'

Activist Medha Patkar, who has been demanding an inquiry into the alleged swindle, says, "Everybody knows what AP stands for.  He is Ajit Pawar.  The posters for him always show him as 'Dada'." 

Mr Pawar, the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, has denied the charges. 

Other entries include the BJP's former president Nitin Gadkari for an amount of RS 50 lakhs and  Gopinath Munde, who is documented as having been paid Rs 20 lakhs.  Some entries say 'Gadkari' and some use the name 'Gad'.

State leaders of the BJP said the allegations are "baseless" and they need proof of the documents' veracity.

The papers- a sort of accounting diary- were found in a raid in Kolhapur at the home of Dhirendra Bhat, a Technical Director of Mahalaxmi Infraprojects Limited (MIL), an irrigation contractor. 

After he was raided, Mr Bhat told the Income Tax officials that of the Rs 287 crores contract, 12 per cent was used to bribe.  Of this 7 per cent for swinging the contract in the favour of MIL and 5.5 per cent was used for getting fake bills generated. Large sums were also paid to officials of the Irrigation department.

Mr Bhat later retracted his statement stating he made a "mistake"  as he was under "tremendous mental tension and pressure."  In its response to the tax inquiry, his employer said that he had not dealt with its finances and that the notings were "erroneously written."

After a detailed inquiry, the Income Tax department has concluded that the documents were based on a 287-crore canals project to be built in Ghodzari in Vidarbha,  a parched region of Maharashtra notorious for the suicides of farmers unable to survive the relentless cycle of failed crops and mounting debt.

Ms Patkar claims the report has enough evidence against those who received the bribes and wants them to be tried for corruption. She has also asked for a retired Supreme Court judge to head a Commission of Inquiry and investigate all irrigation projects in the state. 


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