Maha to move tribunal to stop Rs 287-crore loss to exchequer

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Maha to move tribunal to stop Rs 287-crore loss to exchequer

Sunday, 16 June 2019 | TN RAGHUNATHA | Mumbai

Facing the prospect of paying a sum of Rs 287 crore to a private contractor and getting quashed its crucial resolution of terminating the Balganga construction contract, the Maharashtra Government will belatedly file an appeal before Raigad district court on Monday, challenging the ruling given by a Bombay High court-appointed Arbitration Tribunal in favour of a private firm.

The BJP-led Maharashtra government, which has come under severe flak for its failure to appear before the high court-appointed Arbitration Tribunal hearing a payment-related dispute, has delayed inordinately in moving the Tribal in appeal against the tribunal’s order passed in April awarding Rs 287 crore for the State Water Resources department’s “deliberate” failure to appear at the hearing before the tribunal.

The tribunal had set a 90-day deadline for the state government to file an appeal against its order.  “It is shocking that the Maharashtra government has not bothered to move the Arbitration tribunal even 70 days after the tribunal passed an order against it.  It is only after I obtained the tribunal’s order through an RTI query and shot off a letter to State Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta that the State Water Resources department has woken up and is moving the tribunal in appeal on Monday,” RTI activist Pravin Wategaonkar said.   

“My information is that the State Principal Secretary, Water Resources Department, deliberately absented himself from the tribunal’s hearing in the payment related mater. This prompted the tribunal to pass an order against the State government,” Wategaonkar said.

While awarding Rs 287 crore to private firm M/s F A Construction for the state water department’s failure before it during the hearing, the Arbitration Tribunal – headed by retired high court judge V G Palshikar -- had on April 6 quashed the State government resolution dated September 23, 2016 terminating the contract awarded to M/S FA Construction for the construction of Balganga dam in Raigad district.              

“Despite service of notice, the State government has chosen not to appear in the present proceedings. In the circumstances, we have no hesitation in holding that both, the GR dt. 23.06.2016, and the Notice dt. 28.10.2016 (by KIDC), suffer from the vice of non-application of mind, failure to consider relevant facts, consideration of irrelevant facts and failure to comply with the elementary principles of natural justice, which amounts to malafides in law,” the tribunal order stated

“Hence, we hold that both, the GR dt. 23.09.2016 and (KIDC) notice dt. 28.10.2016, are not only invalid but are totally null and void in law,” the tribunal noted.

Following a payment dispute between the state-run Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC) and M/s FA Construction, the contractor had moved the Bombay High Court in 2015. In turn, the high court had ordered the setting up of a five-member panel to look into the dispute. 

Incidentally, the Balganga project was one of the 12 irrigation projects that the State Government had scrapped on August 30, 2016, after the large-scale irregularities surfaced in them.

On August 24, 2016, the State Anti Corruption Bureau had registered the first FIR in the irrigation scam, booking 11 people in connection with alleged irregularities in awarding the contract for Balganga dam to FA Enterprises.

The names of former deputy chief minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar and  former Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare — also of the NCP are being investigated for alleged irregularities in 12 major irrigation projects undertaken during the previous Congress-NCP regime.        

The multi-thousand irrigation scam, it may be recalled, had come to light in September 2012. Ajitdada had resigned from the deputy chief minister’s post on September 25, 2012, attributing his decision to the media reports on the alleged irregularities in the awarding of 38irrigation contracts worth Rs 20,000 crore in Vidarbha region during 2009, without seeking the mandatory clearance from the governing council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).

Ajitdada was the State Irrigation Minister between 1999 and 2010, before he was elevated as the deputy chief minister and handed the portfolios of Finance and Energy. The irrigation scam had allegedly taken place during his tenure as the State irrigation scam. After Ajitdada took over as the deputy chief minister, Tatkare assumed charge as the Irrigation (Water Resources) Minister.

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