NCP has its way, SIT leaves state BJP divided and Congress unhappy

The state government's decision to constitute a special investigation team (SIT) headed by water expert and former secretary Madhav Chitale has exposed the political understanding between the BJP and NCP over the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was insisting on a judicial commission, had to ultimately settle for conditions set by the NCP.

Several Congress leaders dismissed the Chitale commission as another fact-finding exercise. A former Congress minister from Vidarbha said, "The state government is in possession of at least three reports on irrigation projects. Chitale himself had made several recommendations which have remained on paper."

A senior Congress cabinet minister said, "Such a commission would help in evolving a comprehensive irrigation policy for the state. But the committee will not have the means to investigate the corruption charges and book the culprits."

The state BJP appeared divided on the developments.

Senior BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said, "The government has not defined the SIT's parameters. If the government is determined to redefine the SIT, it will be sad. Instead of looking into the crime and identifying the guilty they would be converting the irrigation scam into another academic discussion."

Bhandari added, "To ensure fair investigation, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare should resign from the government."

However, Leaders of Opposition in the state assembly and council, Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde, claimed credit for forcing the government to accept the demand for an SIT.

The big question is whether the Chitale commission would be able to fix responsibility and ensure punishment for those responsible for the alleged financial irregularities. A source in the chief minister's office said, "Even if the panel is not empowered to probe corruption charges against ministers and officials, its recommendations will be crucial to reforming the irrigation sector."

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