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Irrigation cloud on Gadkari

Nagpur, Oct. 4: BJP president Nitin Gadkari today landed in fresh controversy over a letter he had written to the Centre seeking release of funds for a scam-tainted Maharashtra irrigation project in which some of his associates have bagged contracts.

The Gosekhurd dam project in Vidarbha is mired in questions about the award of contracts, cost escalation and substandard work.

The surfacing of Gadkari’s July 30 letter to Union water resources minister Pawan Bansal has embarrassed the BJP at a time it is taking on the state’s Congress-NCP government on the massive irregularities in the irrigation sector that benefited the contractors.

Among companies that bagged contracts in the Gosekhurd project is SMS Infrastructure Private Limited of BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti, who is also alleged to have been allotted a coal block by the Chhattisgarh government in violation of rules.

Maharashtra legislative council member Mitish Bhangdia’s companies M.G. Bhangdia and Mahendra Construction too have got contracts for the dam. Bhangdia is considered close to both Gadkari and NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who resigned as deputy chief minister last week over the irrigation scam rocking the state.

Gadkari has defended himself saying he had written the letter to help farmers and not to benefit the contractors.

“I wrote a letter to Bansal and will write 10 more,” he said in Mumbai this evening. “It was done in the interest of the farmers of Maharashtra, to prevent farmer suicides in Vidarbha.”

However, local activists such as Vilas Bhongade argue the dam won’t benefit the farmers much or reduce the cotton crisis, since much of its water is being diverted for thermal plants and industries coming up nearby.

In any case, he said, cotton farmers are dying in western Vidarbha while the dam is coming up in paddy-growing eastern Vidarbha.

India Against Corruption activist Anjali Damania had recently accused Gadkari of refusing to take a stand on the irrigation scam rocking Maharashtra because of his business links with NCP leader Sharad Pawar. Gadkari has denied meeting Damania and sent her a defamation notice.

Ajit Pawar, Sharad’s nephew, held the state water resources portfolio from 1999 till 2010