Gadkari must resign on moral grounds: Activist Damania
Right to Information activist Anjali Damania tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore that she is confident that if a judicial probe is ordered into the irrigation scam, NCP leader Ajit Pawar would surely be implicated.
RTI activist Anjali Damania whose expose of the irrigation scam led to the resignation of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on September 25 on Thursday demanded the resignation of Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari on moral grounds. Damania alleged that Gadkari did not pursue the irrigation scam when she met him last year citing his business interest with the deputy chief minister's uncle and Nationalist Party supremo Sharad Pawar.
In one more shocking allegation, Damania claims that godman Bhaiyyu Maharaj influenced Gadkari to go slow on the expose at the Nationalist Congress Party's behest when they learned that she had approached Gadkari to seek his help in raising the issue.
Bhaiyyu Maharaj, along with the late Vilasrao Deshmukh (who was the industry minister then in the Union cabinet), apparently played a key role in pacifying Anna Hazare to end his fast-unto-death at Delhi's Ramlila maidan demanding the passage of Lokpal Bill into a law.
Excerpts of the interview.
Do you think Ajit Pawar is involved in this irrrigation scam?
Definitely. There is no doubt about that.
Are these just claims or you have material evidence to prove it?
We have the entire data; all the tenders, all the internal communications between the officers (and the water resources minister), the way the letters have gone through... the letters have travelled three districts in one day, which is absolutely absurd, which shows the haste in which it was done.
Are you confident that the documents that you have could stand legal scrutiny in a court of law?
Definitely. If you go to the court it is an open and shut case. And that is the reason we (IAC) are demanding a judicial probe by a retired judge.
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Image: Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari
'Gadkari's response was shocking'
Why this sudden finger-pointing at BJP president Nitin Gadkari?
Till day before yesterday (September 26) nobody was even talking about the irrigation scam. I have been working on collecting all the documentary evidence for more than a year now. I have been going to all media channels, given them inputs, filed a PIL on April 10 (2012). IAC has been continuously sending press notes on irrigation scam but after Ajit Pawar's resignation suddenly the media has taken some interest in the irrigation scam finally.
For a simple citizen and ordinary IAC volunteer like me I had only two options: Go to the court, go to the opposition, which I have done. But I could talk only in the press conference yesterday.
But why this sudden charge against Nitin Gadkari? Is this IAC's strategy to get the BJP embroiled in the controversy?
No, no. We are very simple souls. We don't believe in doing one thing for gaining something. We feel that the whole irrigation scam should become public and that it should be probed. That is our only focus. There is no other purpose.
When you met Gadkari and the alleged conversation between you and him took place, where he said he cannot do anything against Ajit Pawar because of his business interests with Sharad Pawar, why didn't you confront him? Why didn't you go public then?
I was at his residence and for a person like me it (Gadkari saying that he cannot do anything about it) was a huge shock. Because first I had gone to him (with the hope) that he is the BJP president (and he might help us in exposing this scam) and second because he is an RSS worker and based on his RSS background he would have some good values inculcated in him and he would be a nice man to talk. But when it (Gadkari saying that he cannot do anything because of his business interests with NCP chief Sharad Pawar) came to me it was a huge shock.
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Image: A farmer spreads fertilisers on his rice plants in Patra village in Punjab.
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters
'We are working to find out the magnitude of the scam'
How is Bhaiyyu Maharaj involved in all this?
I don't know what he does but I got a call saying that he has been chasing this (following how Damania was pursuing the irrigation scam with the BJP president) and he personally went to Gadkari's residence to meet him and ask him to go slow on the irrigation scam. It seems he is very close to the NCP circles and they asked him to approach Gadkari (when NCP came to know that I was taking up the matter with him).
Do you think that Nitin Gadkari should also resign as BJP president on moral grounds for not taking up the issue despite knowing the facts you had put in front of him?
Absolutely, absolutely. And the day I came out (from his residence) and sent him this SMS I thought he will do it that day. But after what he (Gadkari) said yesterday that he has never met me I don't expect a politician like him to do anything. And that is also the reason I decided to go public about my meeting with him.
How big is the irrigation scam in Maharashtra?
I don't know. I am sure even Ajit Pawar won't be able to quantify it. Nobody has any clear figures but we are working to find out the magnitude of the scam.
Tell us about the 'Black Paper' you want to publish to counter the government's White Paper on irrigation?
We are supposed to work on the entire VIDC (Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation) which has 70 dams out of which we have documentary information on nine dams, which is an open and shut case (conclusively proves the irrigation scam and the involvement of top politicians); how the tenders were awarded, all things are clearly mentioned in the papers that we possess.
Actually, I was supposed to get the information on the remaining 61 dams by Monday but suddenly there was a change of stance and the chief engineer, irrigation, has refused to give me those papers despite SIC's (State Information Commissioner) orders to give it to me.
He (the chief engineer) first gave me the information about the nine dams before Ganpati (before September 19) and after Ganpati (after the 11-day Ganpati immersion on Saturday, September 29) on the coming Monday he was supposed to give it to me but he simply sent an SMS asking me to take this papers from the PIO (Public Information officer) in Thane.
Actually, he is supposed to give it to me because he is the nodal officer there but this is how they are trying to... basically they (the politicians who fear their names might get exposed) are being pressurised by the politicians who are involved in this scam.
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Image: RTI activist Anjali Damania
Photographs: TV grab
'Appoint special investigative team to probe scam'
What action do you want the state government to take based on the material you possess?
I want the government to appoint a special investigative team to probe this irrigation scam. I would want Sunil Tatkare (state water resource minister) to resign after Ajit Pawar and both their resignations should be accepted by the honourable chief minister. I respect him a lot and I think he is one of those good politicians left in the system.
These words for the CM I have heard from every mouth that he has a very clean image. There is another politician from the BJP, Devendra Fadnavis, who also seems to have a clean image. I expect people like them to take this fight to its logical end. Because an ordinary citizen like me can be easily harassed by the state machinery. Out of the politicians I know these two seemingly have a clean image. I would definitely expect them to take some proactive role in getting a free and unbiased investigation.
That is not all. I want policies to be reframed because policies that are 36 years old definitely need to be worked on. Trust me, the farmers all over the state are committing suicide for lack of water or their lands are being taken away (for developmental projects) and dams are coming up where they are not required. At some places dams are constructed but canals are not made. The irregularities that one sees in the construction and approval of irrigation projects in Maharashtra are huge.
Image: NCP leader Ajit Pawar