New Delhi: RTI activist Anjali Damania, credited with helping expose a 72,000 crore scam in Maharashtra, has been sued by BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Earlier this week, Ms Damania told NDTV that at a meeting with her in August, Mr Gadkari said he would not support attempts to bring the focus on the scam because he has a business relationship with politician Sharad Pawar, whose nephew, Ajit, resigned this week after being accused of orchestrating the scam while he was Irrigation Minister from 1999-2009. Mr Gadkari denied meeting Ms Damania and has sued her for defamation.
Here, Ms Damania explains what it took to blow the lid off a massive swindle.
"My brush with the corrupt system started last year in May when I learnt that the Kondhane dam is coming up in Karjat, Maharashtra. My family owns 59 acres of land there. So, in June, I sent a letter to the Irrigation Department asking for location of the dam as I wanted to check whether my land will be submerged.
I then went out of the country. When I came back in August, I found out that that the contract has been awarded and the work has already started on the dam. I did nothing initially because you know we generally have a casual attitude and we don't bother to dig in deep into a matter. But I was surprised to see the pace at which the work was going on, it looked suspicious.
So, on August 3rd, I sent a legal notice to as many as 13 authorities. Instead of getting a reply, I started getting calls from the contractors and the sub-contractors who said, "Madam aap in sabme kyun pad rahi hain (Why do you want to get into all this)?" One of them even came at my home and offered money for my land.
Meanwhile, I joined Anna Hazare's India Against Corruption (IAC) movement because I was moved by Mr Hazare's arrest. My father was in the RSS so I am born and brought up in an atmosphere where corruption was a strict no-no. My father had resigned after he was offered bribe and we've seen many struggles in life.
My outlook changed after joining Anna's movement and so I refused all the offers being made by these contractors. I started filing RTI queries. Initially, I got no reply. Then I complained to the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). After this, I started receiving answers to my queries and I was shocked to know that not only Kondhane, there was corruption in one dam after the other. I decided to probe the matter further and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in April, 2012.
After I took this step, the contractors started increasing the price. They were ready to pay me whatever money I wanted. But I refused all the offers. When they realised I was adamant, I started receiving threat calls. (Poll: Can the politician-contractor-babu nexus be broken?)
On April 12, 2012, I received a notice from the Karjat Tehsildar saying my land was uncultivable. Usually, a land is uncultivated, but it was changed to uncultivable. So technically, we could not have used it for agricultural purposes. And he gave me just seven days to respond. I took pictures of the big mango trees which were there on my land for almost 10 years. I also took the soil samples and sent it for testing. The results showed my land was super fertile. The contractors again offered me money, but I refused and continued with my battle.
Then in August this year, a received another notice and my land was taken away. My life's saving was gone. I later learned that the Kondhane project got cancelled in May, but this move was an attempt to arm-twist me so that I don't highlight the entire scam. By this time, I had even met Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and he had assured me of action. He even promised a white paper on the issue.
Dejected by the corruption and malpractices in the government departments, I decided to approach the Opposition party thinking they will help me. But another shocker awaited me. BJP president Nitin Gadkari whom I met on August 14, told me he can't help me because he has business interests with Mr Sharad Pawar. I felt ashamed. I thought what has this country come to? There was no way out for me. But luckily for me, Mr Ajit Pawar resigned and the scam came into focus. I don't know why I did all this, but that god that I did it.
Mr Gadkari has rejected my claims and has even sent me a notice. But I am not speaking lies. What I am telling is the truth. My battle is being given a political colour. Everyone says I did this for money. But I want to clarify one thing - If I wanted money, I would have stopped last year because contractors were offering me a good deal. I didn't have to do all this. I am very upset that my battle has been embroiled in politics. I want to say it again that whatever I am saying is truth and I will fight Mr Gadkari in court.
I have fought a lot and now that the scam is exposed, everyone wants to highlight my cause. But after this entire struggle, the only thing that brought smile on my face is an SMS from my daughter yesterday who said that she, all her teachers, classmates, and her Principal are proud of me."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this blog. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing here do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.