New Delhi: India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday accused BJP national president Nitin Gadkari of being involved in corruption in irrigation projects in Maharashtra, but the main opposition party quickly dismissed the charges as "laughable".
Addressing a press conference here, Kejriwal said Gadkari, who has a huge business empire, has encroached upon farmers’ land in Maharashtra, particularly Vidarbha region.
The IAC activist said Gadkari was running his business at the cost of Vidarbha farmers who have been committing suicide.
"Whose interests does Gadkari represent? He has a very big business empire. His interests are clashing with those of Vidarbha`s farmers?" the activist-cum-politician said.
In his response, Gadkari called the IAC`s claims as "baseless", saying there was no scam. "My conscience is clean. I am ready for a probe."
Referring to research done by IAC activist Anjali Damania, Kejriwal said Rs 70,000 crores had been spent on irrigation projects in Maharashtra but farmers were still not receiving water.
Kejriwal accused the BJP and the NCP-Congress government of colluding in Maharashtra.
Kejriwal said Damania had met Gadkari to ask him to raise the issue, but the latter refused saying he would not be able to speak on the issue and that he had good ties with Sharad Pawar.
"How could you expect us to speak against Mr Sharad Pawar? Chaar kaam wo hamare karte hain, chaar kaam hum unke karte hain," Gadkari had allegedly told Damania.
The reason behind this, Kejriwal said, was that Gadkari was himself involved in encroaching upon land and water in the region.
The IAC activist said the state irrigation department had acquired farmers’ land for a dam project in Umred, 45 kms from Nagpur, but around 100 acre land was left unutilized even after the project got completed.
According to Kejriwal, the irrigation department headed by the then irrigation minister Ajit Pawar did not return the land to the farmers but sold it off to Gadkari and a firm in June 2005. That company also later surrendered the land, which was too transferred to Gadkari’s company.
"This was in violation of rules," he told a crowded news conference. "When farmers protested, they were threatened by Gadkari`s henchmen."
Kejriwal asked when Gadkari too is doing farming on the said land, why was it not returned to its original owners - the farmers?
Kejriwal further alleged that the water from the dam built was not being used for irrigation purposes but diverted to Gadkari’s firms as well as other companies owned by politicians. Most of these firms operate power plants, sugar mills etc, he added.
All this was done in collusion with Ajit Pawar, who has been accused of large scale corruption in what has come to be known as the irrigation scam, he said.
Saying the same story was being repeated across Maharashtra, Kejriwal alleged that there was corruption in construction of dams.
“Canals have not been built on most dams; if canals have been built, then most of them are not in working condition. Almost all the water has been diverted by Ajit Pawar to power firms and sugar industries,” he said.
Kejriwal said there was a proposal to build 71 dams and set up 71 power plants in Maharashtra. “If these plants come up, then no water will be left for the farmers,” he warned.
Referring to Gadkari’s letter to the Union Water Resources Minister seeking clearance of Rs 400 crores pending to contractors in Maharashtra, Kejriwal asked why did the BJP president never showed such sympathy for farmers?
“Why did he not raise his voice when farmers were not getting water?” he asked further.
"Is Gadkari a businessman or a politician?" he asked, and went on to answer that anyone with business interests could never honestly represent people`s interests.
The IAC leader said leaders of all parties – BJP, NCP, Congress, Shiv Sena etc – have power plants in Maharashtra and alleged quid pro quo among all the parties.
He added: "There will be no probe against Vadra or Khurshid or Gadkari... They are all in league with one another. They are looting the country together."
Asked if the IAC had any expectation from the government, Kejriwal said: "We are not demanding anything from the government. We are demanding from the people of this country... please arise, stand up."
Both the NCP and BJP denied IAC’s charges. The BJP called it "a political stunt" while the NCP said the matter was an old one and was already under investigation.
This was Kejriwal`s third major press meet this month. On October 5, he alleged collusion between UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi`s son-in-law Robert Vadra, realty major DLF and the Haryana government.
And on Sunday, he accused Law Minister Salman Khurshid and his wife Lousie of corruption vis-a-vis an NGO they run in his constituency Farukkhabad in Uttar Pradesh.