Irrigation scam: Gadkari says letter for farmers' benefit

NEW DELHI: Bharatiya Janata Party President Gadkari found himself in a soup over a letter he wrote to Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal asking him to release funds for an irrigation project in Maharashtra, in which a close aide of his is said to be a contractor.

Gadkari wrote to Bansal on July 30 this year asking him to clear the dues of contractors involved in the Gosikhurd project.

In his letter, Gadkari wrote: "The project works are in full speed. Due to non-payment of their dues the contractors stop their works. This may delay the project and would also result in time overrun and delays in creation of irrigation potential. Presently liability of about Rs. 400 crores is pending. It is requested to recommend the project to receive funds of the year 2011-12," NDTV reports.

Gadkari's detractors say that it was a ploy to benefit his associate Ajay Sancheti.

Gadkari defended his action saying that he will ten more letters as it was done in the interest of farmers and to prevent farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region.

The project was embroiled in a controversy that lead NCP leader Ajit Pawar to resign as deputy chief minister of Pakistan.

Ajit Pawar abruptly quit the state cabinet amid allegations of arbitrarily doling out irrigation contracts worth over Rs. 20,000 crore, when he was the water resources minister between 1999-2009.

Even as the political drama over alleged corruption in Maharashtra's irrigation sector wound down, more information has come to light of how a government rule, which says one firm cannot get more than three contracts at a time, was ignored to the benefit of a handful of contractors.

Among those that benefited was a firm of the BJP MP Ajay Sancheti, a close aide of the party's national president Nitin Gadkari. A fact that Sancheti denies.

In 2005, Mr Ajay Sancheti's firm, Shaktikumar M Sancheti Ltd, changed its name to SMS Infrastructure Ltd and got a fresh certificate of incorporation. In 2006, the firm informed the Vidarbha Irrigation Develop-ment Corporation about the name change. But it now appears the two firms continued to operate at the same time.

In 2008, when Ajit Pawar was irrigation minister, the VIDC had relaxed the three-contract limit on grounds that under the PM's relief package more funds were made available to Vidarbha and many projects were taken up. (Agencies)