The Maharashtra government, yielding to pressure and announcing that the Special Investigation Team will probe into the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam is a welcome step.
However, for such an inquiry to be independent, effective and useful, major aspects are its members and its mandate.
Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare announced on the December 17 in the state legislative assembly that the SIT will be headed by Madhavrao Chitale, who has headed the Maharashtra water and irrigation commission that brought out the Maharashtra water and irrigation commission report in 1999, based on which a number of dams in question have been built.
An independent inquiry about these dams cannot be conducted by the same person who visualised and recommended these schemes. In addition, Chitale does not have the expertise to undertake in-depth and effective studies about corruption charges, which are at the heart of the urrigation scam.
Chitale is not known for taking any anti-establishment position so far and is known for his pro-dam, large infrastructure bias. This further disqualifies him from being an unbiased member of the SIT.
A spokesperson from the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, an informal network of organisations and individuals working on issues related with water sector, said, "We demand that the SIT should not include any current or former officials, except ones such as Pandhare who have proved their independent stand."
"The term of the committee should not be more than 3 months. The committee should be given all the information, and other resources required for its task and should be asked to look into legal, administrative, technical and financial aspects," he adds.
"To enable the committee to work in an unaffected and unbiased manner, Tatkare and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar should not be holding offices till the SIT submits its report," he says.
"The SIT that is announced will be ineffective in its current form. This is a golden opportunity for the Maharashtra water resources sector for course correction and missing this would be a great loss for the state, its people and its future," he concludes.