As if the state government’s selection of Madhav Chitale, a “pro-water resource establishment” expert on water resources and irrigation, to head special investigation team (SIT) on the Rs70,000 crore irrigation scam had not got enough flak, Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan announcement of the terms of reference (TOR) and the other members who will work with Chitale, near midnight on Monday has kicked up a huge storm.
Apart from water expert Madhav Chitale, the SIT, will now have as members, former additional chief secretary, finance AKD Jadhav, retired irrigation secretary VM Ranade and former agriculture commissioner Krishna Lavekar, Chavan announced.
He has also said the TOR will include: going into details of examining irrigated potential and actual irrigated land, reasons for low actual irrigated area, reasons for cost escalations, delaying completion of pending projects, and suggesting measures for improving irrigation sector. Incidentally three other committees (Wadnere committee, Mendgiri committee and Upase committee) have already gone into these same aspects and the findings are already with the government.
On December 18th, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) chief Medha Patkar had met the CM in Nagpur along with a delegation and voiced reservations on the choice of Chitale to head the SIT. “We want the government to keep the process transparent and accountable. After all, it is the people’s money and they have a right to know where it has vanished,” she had said. “Chitale has never gone beyond the technocrat’s brief in his view on big dams. We need someone with a holistic and equitable understanding of the water resources and access to them.”
In fact when she and the other delegation members had raised the issue of having a retired judge and a representative of people's movements for right to water on the SIT, Chavan had been enthusiastic. “Please suggest names and we'll be glad to consider them,” he'd assured them.
A surprised Patkar told DNA, “Now there seems to be a move to pack the SIT with retired pro-government bureaucrats. This not only dashes all hopes of a free, fair and just inquiry but shows up for just how sincere and committed the government is on an issue which deeply affects so many people.”
"The TOR and constitution of the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam SIT at midnight as the year 2012 ended confirms the worst fears that this is another attempt at white washing the irrigation scam,” said Himanshsu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People who called it, “a big black mark on the much hyped honesty of the Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan.”
Others like Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS) charged the government with an even more ulterior motive. “The government clearly wants to protect the then water resource minister Ajit Pawar, current incumbent with same portfolio Sunil Tatkare, MLCs Sandeep Bajoria and Avinash Bhosale (all from the NCP) and MP Ajay Sancheti and MLC Mithleya Bhangdiya (from the BJP),” he charged and added, “The silence from the opposition in the state is deafening, particularly the BJP which goes ballistic on most issues”
Thakkar of SANDRP too concurred with Tiwari's views. “The opposition's silence shows they are hand-in-glove, in one way or the other, with the government in this scam.”