Irrigation scam: Pawar pressure forced CM to form toothless SIT

Coalition politics compelled CM Prithviraj Chavan to form a special investigation team (SIT) outside Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, to "probe" the multi-crore-rupee irrigation scam that took place when NCP leader Ajit Pawar was heading the ministry.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar had agreed to an SIT under the Act, but nephew Ajit pressured him to demand a fact-finding team, instead.

Sources in NCP said, "Ajit was assertive and had his way both on SIT and return to cabinet with the ministries of finance and energy."

Government sources said, "Chavan discussed with Sharad Pawar the mode of investigation."

However, at the eleventh hour, after giving consent to SIT, CM was told Ajit was not accepting the formation under Commission of Inquiry Act.

Though not pleased with the decision of the NCP leadership, he agreed, to avoid confrontation at a time Congress was trying to please alliance partners with Parliament and state legislature sessions in progress.

Congress sources said, "Initially, CM was keen on a judicial probe. But once he got assurance from the NCP president, he agreed to an SIT. His attempt to provide teeth to the team, however, failed due to pressure from Ajit."

Sources in NCP said, "Accepting SIT under Commissin of Inquiry Act would have created a problem as party ministers would have been subjected to scrutiny from day one. This would have demoralised cadre."

Instead, NCP wants the fact-finding team to identify areas of concern, including cost escalation, before questioning deputy chief minister Ajit or water resources minister Sunil Tatkare.

On his part, Ajit has maintained, "There is a systematic campaign to tarnish my image in the state."

Meanwhile, NCP has decided to counter the month-long opposition campaign to expose SIT using its own fact-finding report published during the winter session. State party president Madhukar Pichad said, "How can you allege Rs 70,000-crore corruption in the irrigation sector? The total investment of the state does not exceed Rs 42,000 crore."

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