Warning that the water resources department of Maharashtra is playing with citizens’ lives, chief engineer Vijay Pandhare, in a missive to his engineer colleagues, has said at least half of all corruption in the state government can be brought under control in a single stroke by curtailing ministers’ powers. “Playing with public money may not cause much damage but playing with people’s lives is a serious matter,” says the open letter penned by Pandhare, before continuing, “….my objective was not to malign engineers. I had to speak up because the matter had grown out of the secretaries’ control.”
Pandhare is the original whistleblower in Maharashtra’s irrigation scam, having written letters to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and governor K Sankaranarayanan in February and then in May this year seeking a CBI probe into inflated cost estimates and other serious irregularities in dam-building contracts in the state.
Following former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s resignation over the allegations last Tuesday, Pandhare was provided police protection.
“Phone calls come directly from Mantralaya. It often happens that estimates are yet to reach the office when calls come urging that the estimates be forwarded to the next level.” The letter mentions “cost estimates with grave errors, incorrect application, carelessly okayed projects, extremely expensive projects, projects that should not be undertaken”.
The chief minister’s call for a white paper on the irrigation department, which has spent about Rs70,000 crore over a decade on dam projects that have added a mere 0.1% of irrigated land, has been at the centre of the latest war between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, with the latter controlling the department for 13 years.
The quality of construction in dam projects has been seriously compromised, he has said in the letter. “When nobody is suspended or penalised, the message that goes out is that one can get away with anything -- politicians and contractors will protect us,” he says.
Sources close to Pandhare said he presented this latest letter to a meeting of an engineers' association at Nashik on September 21. He was prompted to write the open letter to his colleagues, said the source, by a growing sense of opinion being mobilised against him within the department.
“At the earlier meeting of the Abhiyanta Mahasangh (engineers’ association), there was heated debate about Pandhare’s decision to write to the chief minister and governor about the illegalities in the water conservation department. One opinion was that Pandhare had brought disrepute upon the engineering department. That is why he felt he should explain his position to his fellow engineers,” said a source in Nashik.