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Irrigation scam: Damania versus Gadkari

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India Today reports and allegation against Nitin Gadkari concerning Maharashtra’s irrigation scam:

IAC activist Anjali Damania, who has alleged that BJP president Nitin Gadkari had tried to thwart attempts to expose the irrigation scam in Maharashtra, fired a fresh salvo that is going to further embarrass the BJP.

The IAC on Thursday furnished details of Damania meeting with Gadkari in Mumbai. According to the IAC release, Damania met Gadkari on August 14, 2012 at 10 am at his residence in Worli. Giving the sequence of the meeting with Gadkari, Anjali in the press release has said that when she met the BJP chief she was ‘chided’ for her ‘zeal’ and ‘lack of understanding’ of politics by Gadkari.

She alleged that Gadkari told her that the BJP was not going to raise the irrigation scam as he had good relations with Sharad Pawar and the NCP. Damania claimed that Gadkari said that the opposition’s role was limited to asking questions in the assembly and taking a press conference at the most. According to Damania, Gadkari said, “We have good equations with Sharad Pawar, we do business together, while he does some of our work, we do some of his work.” (Sharad Pawar ke saath hamara uthana baithna hai, hum saath dhanda karte hain. Wo hamare chaar kaam karte hain, aur hum unke chaar kaam karte hain.)

TOI reports Gadkari’s rebuttal:

BJP president Nitin Gadkari served a legal notice on India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Anjali Damania on Thursday for claiming that he had said his party would not go after the NCP, whose ministers were being accused in the mega irrigation scam, as he had business links with NCP president Sharad Pawar.

“You have made false statements and insinuated that my client has business relations with Sharad Pawar and, as a result, my client tried to dissuade you from proceeding on the irrigation scam and tried to restrain you from filing a public interest litigation to expose it,” said the notice.

As Damania’s strong allegations sank in, the BJP, which strove with others to bring to light the scam, seemed to run the risk of being sucked into the corruption quagmire. The party, which began its national executive near Delhi in the morning, understandably fought back hard.

Eknath Khadse, leader of the opposition in the assembly, said: “Once we received a complaint letter from Damania, it was immediately forwarded to the irrigation department along with a covering letter of Gadkari. The letter requested the government to provide all help to Damania.”

Livemint profiles Anjali Damania:

In May last year, Anjali Damania, a pathologist, mother of two, and land-owner, received a notice from the government seeking to acquire 30 acres she owned in Kondhane village in Karjat taluka of Raigad district for a dam.

That was the 42-year-old’s introduction to the murky world of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors.

Today, Damania is making headlines as a whistleblower, having added a twist to the ongoing tale of state deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s resignation over allegations of corruption and favouritism in awarding contracts for irrigation projects.

Through an application filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act she found out that the cost of the Kondhane dam project had risen from Rs.56 crore to Rs.328 crore and that too after the contract for the project had been awarded. The reason cited by the government was that it had decided to increase the height of dam from 39 meters to 71 meters.

This increased her determination to probe the scam. She similarly discovered that the cost of Kalu dam in Thane district had more than doubled—from Rs.640 crore to Rs.1,400 crore; that of the Balganga dam at Pen in Raigad district had increased three-fold—from Rs.420 crore to Rs.1,320 crore; and that of the Shai dam in Thane district, from Rs.410 crore to Rs.1,339 crore.
Her efforts resulted in threats over the phone, but her initially reluctant family started supporting her after her father-in-law was inspired by a TV programme on the plight of farmers who had lost their land to dams.

Damania went ahead and forced officials of the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC) to give her information by threatening to protest in the office of KIDC itself.

Mayank Gandhi, president of the Mumbai chapter of India Against Corruption (IAC) said, “Damania approached us and told us about her personal experience with the irrigation department. We sensed a big scam and encouraged her to file RTI applications. Our activists worked closely with her to make sense of all the documents she had received under RTI and from other sources and build a strong case.”

After gathering enough ammunition, Damania met chief minister Chavan. Soon after, work on the Kondhane dam stopped and the chief minister ordered an investigation into the functioning of the irrigation department, a move that almost cost him his job at the NCP’s behest. That storm passed, but it was, in many ways, the beginning of the current crisis in Maharashtra.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 28, 2012 at 4:55 am

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