Perhaps, people are saying, it’s time the Nationalist Congress Party is rechristened the ‘national corrupt party’. The high drama that followed the resignation of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar last week turned the focus from allegations of his involvement in a Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam to the power struggle within the NCP. But look closely at the party of which Sharad Pawar is the fountainhead, and you discover that its current crop of leaders offers a full litany of those facing equally serious charges.
While the state anti-corruption bureau (ACB) has launched a full-fledged investigation against NCP ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare for alleged corruption and amassing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income, several other leaders of the party are also under the scanner of various investigating agencies. A rough roster:
Minister for water resources
A close aide of Ajit Pawar, Tatkare took over the reins of the irrigation department from him in 2009. His tenure has been marked by controversies ever since. Tatkare reportedly significantly escalated the cost of irrigation projects in Maharashtra both during his own and his predecessor’s tenure. For instance, he is said to have dubiously increased costs by up to 150 per cent and 500 per cent for the Balganga and Kondhane dam projects in the state. What has, however, really put the minister in the dock is a petition filed by Kirit Somaiya of the BJP before the Bombay High Court. Based on over 2,000 pages of documentary evidence he has submitted, the ACB is currently investigating Tatkare and his family for allegedly acquiring 7,500 acres of farmland illegally by creating a web of over 100 front companies. And one of the ‘directors’ in one of the many Tatkare companies is none other than the son of a gardener who’s in his employ!
Minister for public works and special assistance
Bhujbal is another minister currently being investigated by the ACB for his alleged corruption in the construction of the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. Bhujbal is alleged to have misused his official position to ensure that contracts were awarded to firms owned by his relatives and friends. The BJP in Maharashtra has alleged that Bhujbal was instrumental in escalating the cost of renovating Maharashtra Sadan thrice over from the original Rs 52 crore to a more juicy Rs 152 crore! Even though the government was not paying for the construction, the benefit of this cost escalation is said to have been passed on to the companies or sub-contractors having direct or indirect links with Bhujbal or his family. The contract to provide furniture for the 16,000 square feet guesthouse, for instance, was awarded to a firm called Ideen, which has Bhujbal’s daughters-in-law as directors. Political and industry circles were also abuzz with news of a Rs 2.5 crore donation by leading industrial group IndiaBulls to the Bhujbal Foundation in lieu of contracts in Nashik. In addition, the minister is alleged to have misused the trust property and misappropriated trust money to the tune of over Rs 100 crore.
This NCP strongman from Jalgaon is under the scanner for two scams. He has been arrested and chargesheeted along with Shiv Sena MLA Sureshdada Jain in a Rs 40 crore-plus Jalgaon housing scam related to the construction of 11,000 low-cost houses in that northern Maharashtra town. Investigations are also under way for his alleged role in the Rs 42-crore Waghur drinking water supply plan fraud. Deokar was a member of the Jalgaon Municipal Council between 1995 and 2000, when it floated construction tenders for the housing scheme in 1997. The council promised to provide nine plots for the project, of which it did not own five while the remaining four were reserved for a school, public garden or hospital. Deokar allegedly altered tender conditions to enable Khandesh Builders, a front company of Sena’s Sureshdada, to secure the contract. The project never took off, but Khandesh Builders were allegedly given massive funds.
PWD minister in charge of Maharashtra State Road Development
This NCP minister is believed to have diverted funds meant for the infrastructure development of Mumbai for the construction of a flyover in his hometown Beed despite the lack of mandatory clearances. He also reportedly bent rules for the project despite repeated objections from bureaucrats and other agencies. The minister is said to have sanctioned the project in 2010 in the name of easing traffic congestion. As per rules, MSRDC needed permission from the public works department, the cabinet infrastructure subcommittee and the NHAI. Not only did the PWD reportedly not give its approval for the project, it also ‘warned’ MSRDC against it. As for the cabinet sub-committee, its permission was not even sought, while the NHAI had asked MSRDC to put the project on hold till the completion of the Beed bypass road. Not just that, according to a petition filed in the Bombay High Court, the Beed flyover is being financed by diverting a part of the Rs 2,100 crore MSRDC had got originally for Mumbai’s infrastructure development.
The CBI questioned him in 2011 regarding the source of funds for the purchase of Flat No. 601 in the controversial Adarsh Housing Society. In his statement before the judicial commission inquiring into the Adarsh scam, Ahwad confirmed having paid up to Rs 79 lakh to the society. The payments were routed via Jitnat Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, a company whose director Ahwad was till early 2012.
Minister for excise, environment and labour
Accused of misappropriating Rs 2.38 crore from the Kalwa Belapur Sahkari Bank in Navi Mumbai between 1995 and 1998, he is said to have misused his official position to get loans sanctioned to parties directly or indirectly related to him.
Given this swirl of corruption charges around its ministers, talks are rife that a cabinet reshuffle is in the offing in Maharashtra and that the NCP chief is keen on replacing the tainted ministers. However, Girish Kuber, the executive editor of the Loksatta group, feels that the NCP, despite the allegations, may manage to escape the voters’ anger “because in their respective constituencies, each of these reportedly corrupt ministers are like Robin Hoods. They are more concerned with their own constituency and not the state as a whole”.
However, Kumar Ketkar, a senior journalist and political analyst from Maharashtra, thinks otherwise. “The NCP,” he says, “cannot pretend these scams never happened because these are well-known scams and well-known scamsters. I am not sure how strongly they will be proved in a court of law. So will the NCP be answerable at any point in time? Who will they answer to? These are the same people who set up committees and give nods for investigations.” There is, indeed, no answer.