Dams scandal: Ajit Pawar quits as Dy CM Maharashtra

Ajit Pawar
In an unexpected move which triggered a political crisis in Maharashtra, Deputy Chief Minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar Tuesday quit from all his ministerial posts over allegations of irregularities in irrigation projects when he was water resources minister and finance minister.

At a hurriedly-convened press conference, Pawar announced he was resigning as minister of finance and planning and power with immediate effect and said he would not reconsider his decision even if the allegations were proven wrong. He has, however, kept the post of the leader of the party in the state legislature.

"I have informed the party chief Sharad Pawar before sending my resignation to the Chief Minister's office. There is no truth in the allegations being made right now. I will go before the people of the state and let them decide what the truth is," he said.

The party leadership could not, however, make up its mind if it should accept the offer of other NCP ministers to quit as well. NCP chief Sharad Pawar asserted his authority in the party, that has 62 MLAs in the 288-member Assembly. "This news (of other NCP ministers resigning) is not correct. They have not quit. I am the final authority to decide," he told a TV news channel.

But Ajit Pawar's sudden move has forced others in his own party to offer to quit the council of ministers. Party spokesperson Nawab Malik said that all NCP ministers in the state have submitted their resignations to state party chief Madhukar Pichad and their letters were addressed to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

"The NCP's state legislative party will meet in Mumbai tomorrow and a decision on the resignations and the party's continuation in the alliance will be taken," he told The Indian Express.

During his press conference earlier in the day, Ajit Pawar also took an indirect dig at Chavan. Responding to allegations that irrigation projects had been cleared hastily, he said: "I do not accept keeping files pending for months. It is necessary to take decision on proposals at the earliest and that is my style of work. Therefore, I do not agree with the allegations of hasty decision-making made against me."

The resignation, according to sources close to Ajit Pawar, is aimed not only at neutralising his detractors within the party, specifically Chhagan Bhujbal, but also to exert pressure on the state Congress to act against its own ministers accused of corruption, such as Gulabrao Deokar and Rajendra Darda. NCP leaders including Praful Patel, however, said the party did not wish to destabilise the alliance government and would not pull out.

Without naming the Congress or other political parties, Ajit Pawar said some political powers were hurt to see the NCP's progress in the recent local bodies elections and its growth in the state.

In his letter to the CM, Pawar has recommended the name of Minister for Higher and Technical Education Rajesh Tope for the power portfolio and Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil for the finance and planning department.

"There are limitations to allocating funds for incomplete irrigation projects. Since work on many projects is going on for the last 20 years, obviously the cost of these projects goes on increasing...permissions for these expensive projects have been granted before I took charge of the water resources department. Since there was not sufficient allocation to complete the projects they have remained incomplete and the cost has gone up over a period of time. Therefore, there is considerable rise in the cost. In such conditions, the responsibility of making a fact based report to the minister lies with the technical officers. After considering all aspects, the report is presented to the minister for approval and it is granted. These decisions are taken on the basis of recommendations made by the technical experts," said Pawar.

He said he would support the demand to bring out a white paper which will look into the details of approvals granted for the projects in the state, how much allocation has been made in each year, how much was spent on land acquisition.

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