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Indian party minister resigns over irrigation scam

Publication Date : 26-09-2012


India's coalition government in Maharashtra yesterday faced a crisis with Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) resigning in the wake of allegations of a massive irrigation scam as 20 more of his party’s ministers offered to quit in a bid to mount pressure on the Congress.

The simmering tensions in the 13-year-old coalition came to the fore with the resignation of Ajit, 53-year-old nephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, following reports of scam to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees in irrigation projects during his tenure as water resources minister between 1999 and 2009.

The NCP suspects the hand of the Congress behind these reports targeting Ajit and other NCP leaders. However, Sharad Pawar dismissed reports of a crisis or pressure building on him to get the party out of the coalition, saying there is no question of “destabilising” the state government or any more resignations.

His party leader Majid Memon said the resignations of other ministers were done as a measure of solidarity with Ajit.

Ajit put in his papers today after discussions with his uncle in the wake of allegations of irregularities in clearing irrigation projects worth thousands of crores of rupees.

“I have sent my resignation to the chief minister's office....I am ready to face a CBI probe,” Ajit told a hurriedly called Press conference, adding that he will stand vindicated.

His resignation comes on top of strains in the coalition that has been struck by the worst internal crisis after Chavan took over as chief minister less than two years ago.

Chavan said he would talk to both NCP and Congress leaders before deciding on Ajit's resignation. On a day of hectic developments, 20 other NCP ministers have sent their resignations to state party chief Madhukar Pichad with a demand that the party should quit the coalition.

The NCP Legislature Party will meet today to chalk out its future strategy.

Union Minister and NCP vce president Praful Patel spoke of a “big conspiracy” to defame the NCP not only by Opposition parties but also by “our friends”. He dismissed as baseless reports that the resignation would pave the way for Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule replacing Ajit as deputy chief minister.

Ajit, who held finance and energy portfolios, said he will continue to be the leader of the NCP Legislature Party as long as he enjoyed the support of the legislators. He would not accept any post till his name is “cleared”, he said.

There have been reports in the media that Ajit had cleared 38 projects worth 200 billion rupees (US$3.73 billion) in 2009 without the clearance of the Governing Council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation. “People are jealous of the rise of the NCP,” Ajit said, in an apparent reference to ally Congress with which his party has had an uneasy relationship for the past several years.

Sharad Pawar said he gave “permission” to Ajit to resign after he had called him yesterday and sought clearance. “We will continue to be part of the government,” he said, while brushing aside speculation of his party pulling out of the government and supporting it from outside.
The Union minister said Ajit told him that he was ready for a probe and confident of coming out clean in the alleged “irrigation scam” during his tenure as the state's water resources minister.


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