The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Wednesday said it would hear on February 13 a plea seeking judicial inquiry in the Vidarbha irrigation scam and against Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, even as the NCP leader opposed the application.
A bench of Justices SB Shukre and Madhav Jamdar was hearing a bunch of petitions seeking probe in the multi-crore scam to be transferred from the state Anti-Corruption Bureau to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Mr Pawar, the NCP MLA from Baramati in Pune district, was water resources development minister during 1999-2009 when the Congress-NCP combine was in power in Maharashtra.
The petitions alleged that Mr Pawar, who also served as chairman of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, and officials of the corporation colluded with contractors while issuing tenders for projects, causing loss to the state exchequer.
One of the petitioners, NGO Janmanch's counsel Firdos Mirza on Wednesday submitted an application seeking that the court set up a judicial inquiry, as the petitioner does not have faith in both the state and central agencies and fears that the investigating agencies were favouring Mr Pawar.
"In view of the changing political equations and the role played by Ajit Pawar in formation of the government, the petitioner does not have faith in any investigating agency and is hence, seeking a judicial commission of inquiry to be set up under chairmanship of a retired judge," the plea said.
Mr Pawar's counsel Prasad Dhakepalkar opposed the request and said a special investigation team has already been set up and probe into the alleged scam is still on.
Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) counsel Anand Jaiswal also opposed the application filed by the petitioner.
The bench said it would hear final arguments on the issue on February 13.
In December 2019, the ACB filed an affidavit in the court giving clean chit to Mr Pawar and stating that no cognizable offence was made out against the NCP leader.
The agency said its inquiry found no involvement of Mr Pawar in the alleged scam -- in the 12 projects undertaken by the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).
The petitioners then filed applications challenging the clean chit and sought that the probe be transferred to the CBI or ED.
On Tuesday, Mr Pawar filed his affidavit against the petitions and termed the allegations as "mala fide".
"The petitioner cannot have any apprehension of bias of the investigation favouring the present respondent (Pawar)," the affidavit said.
"It is a known fact that most of the investigation conducted, FIRs registered and charge sheets filed were during the term of the previous government in which the present respondent (Pawar) was a prominent leader in the opposition," it said.
Mr Pawar in his affidavit also said the petitioner cannot seek CBI probe or judicial inquiry into the case only because the present investigating agency has given him a clean chit.
"The present civil applications may not be entertained by the HC as they are actuated by personal motives mala fide intentions, business rivalry or not in the nature of public interest," he said.
The NCP leader further said that he has not indulged in any corrupt, motivated or mala fide act while discharging his duties as a minister. "I state that I have as a minister or as ex-officio chairman of the VIDC, have followed all the rules and have discharged my public duties with clear conscience and without fear, favour or illegal motives," Mr Pawar said in the affidavit.