Irrigation scam: Final hearing on PILs seeking judicial probe on February 13

Vivek Deshpande
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On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar filed an affidavit before the high court bench seeking the petitions against him in the case be dismissed. (File photo)

The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Wednesday fixed February 13 for the final hearing on a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) seeking judicial inquiry in the Vidarbha irrigation scam on February 13.

A bench of justices Sunil Shukre and Madhav Jamdar was hearing an application filed by one of the petitioners, NGO Janmanch, seeking the probe in the multi-crore scam to be transferred from the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The petitioner, through counsel Firdaus Mirza, on Wednesday sought the investigation be handed over to a judicial commission of inquiry.

“Since there was an attempt by the BJP to form a government (in the state) with Ajit Pawar [an accused in the case], the demand for CBI probe has lost relevance, since it (the CBI) is a central agency and the Centre is ruled by the BJP,” Mirza said.

Ajit Pawar’s lawyer Prasad Dhakephalkar and counsel Anand Jaiswal, appearing for the state ACB, which is currently probing the case, have strongly opposed the demand for a judicial inquiry, while pointing out that ACB is already probing the matter and FIRs have also been lodged. They said a judicial probe can be ordered only by the government, and not a court. Findings of any judicial commission, they said, don’t have any evidential value in court.

The court, after hearing both sides, fixed the final hearing on February 13.

Earlier, Atul Jagtap, another petitioner, who filed four PILs — pertaining to four projects in Amravati division — had sought that the probe be handed over to the CBI or Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The plea is subsequent to two affidavits filed by two successive ACB directors general of police (DGPs) on Pawar’s role in the alleged scam — while former DGP Sanjay Barve in an affidavit filed on December 26, 2018, said Pawar had “influenced” the process of awarding contracts in irrigation projects, incumbent DGP Parambir Singh gave Pawar a clean chit in an affidavit filed on December 27, 2019.

On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar filed an affidavit before the high court bench seeking the petitions against him in the case be dismissed.

He also challenged Jagtap’s plea on various grounds and questioned his locus standi.

“The petitioner has no locus standi to make the prayers in the said application since the application isn’t maintainable in as much as Jagtap is himself a contractor and filed tenders in respect of various projects, which were involved in the present PILs. I say that the present civil applications may not be entertained by this honourable court as they are actuated by personal motives, mala fide intention business rivalry and or not in the nature of public interest,” Pawar said in the affidavit.

Pawar has also challenged the maintainability of the PILs against him in the HC being directly approached by the petitioner. “The PIL had a limited prayer of investigation, and therefore this honourable court can’t be used by the petitioners for settling their personal grievances. Given the fact that the state has stated that the criminal law had been set into motion, it is respectfully submitted that the courts cannot look into or supervise the investigation, and more so, can’t direct that a particular person be made an accused,” his affidavit stated.

Pawar pointed out that affidavits filed by Nagpur and Amravati ACBs on September 11 last year have stated “progress of investigation”.

“It (the affidavits) also stated that Respondent No 7 (Ajit Pawar) was questioned, interrogated and furthermore written detailed questionnaires have also been posed to me. I have replied to them on September 16, 2019. Thus, it is amply clear that I have cooperated with the investigation. Petitioners can have no apprehension of bias or mala fides of the investigation favouring the present deponent as it is a known fact that most of the investigation conducted, FIRs registered and chargesheets filed was during the term of the previous government in which the present deponent was a prominent opposition leader,” he stated.

Pawar further stated that as a minister or as ex-officio chairman of Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), “I have followed all the rules and have discharged my public duties with a clear conscience and without any fear or illegal motives... No wrongdoing can be attributed to me as I haven’t granted any undue favours to any person/contractor and all contacts were awarded by the department in accordance with the rules and didn’t warrant or have my interference.”

Referring to the affidavits filed by two ACB DGPs, Pawar stated, “The sum and substance of the affidavit of the present DGP makes it clear that there is no inconsistency in either of the two affidavits and his affidavit was filed after investigation with respect to the deponent was conducted. Therefore, the present application deserves to be dismissed as no particulars or material was brought before this honourable court to arrive at a finding that the Special Investigating Teams, plus SITs of the ACB were not functioning efficiently or at a fast pace."

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