Mumbai, Dec 6: A week after a government white paper on irrigation gave Ajit Pawar a clean chit, the senior NCP leader was on Thursday sworn-in as Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister. Pawar, the nephew of NCP president and Union Minister Sharad Pawar, was sworn in at Raj Bhawan here. Governor K Sankaranarayanan administered oath of office to Pawar in the presence of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. Opposition Sena-BJP members, who have denounced the move, kept away from the swearing-in ceremony.
The dramatic announcement of resignation of Pawar on Sept 25, in the wake of allegations of corruption in irrigation projects, had plunged the state's Congress-NCP government into a crisis with all other 19 party ministers offering to quit. Pawar, 53, had resigned after media reports alleged that he had arbitrarily awarded irrigation contracts worth over Rs 20,000 crore when he was state's irrigation minister during 1999-2009, before he was elevated as deputy chief minister and handled the plum finance and energy portfolios.
The white paper, presented by the irrigation department to the state Cabinet on Nov 29, had claimed a 28 per cent increase in irrigation potential in Maharashtra in the last ten years. It was described as a status paper on irrigation and not an investigation report. Chavan had announced a white paper on irrigation would be brought after state's economic survey report said the state's irrigation potential had risen only by 0.1 per cent between 2001 and 2010. All these years the irrigation portfolio was with the NCP.
Ever since the white paper gave a virtual clean chit to Ajit Pawar, the chorus for his return had been growing louder and it was only a matter of time before he was brought back as deputy chief minister. As the Congress-NCP dispensation appeared on a shaky ground following Ajit Pawar's resignation and Sharad Pawar had to fly into Mumbai to bring things under control, the NCP boss had made it clear that the former Deputy CM would continue to be the leader of its Legislature party.
The NCP boss's right hand man and cabinet colleague Praful Patel had said the deputy chief minister's post will be kept vacant, indicating he would be back once the white paper "cleared" him. Meanwhile, Opposition BJP and Shiv Sena on Wednesday reacted sharply to the impending re-induction of Pawar and demanded that he face a probe by a Special Investigation Team. "If he has guts he should be ready for SIT probe. If he is proved innocent, then he should come back in the cabinet with respect," Khadse had said.
He alleged that the Chief Minister was bringing Pawar back under ally NCP's pressure. "It is really unfortunate that Chief Minister Chavan who calls himself clean has to re-induct Pawar due to NCP's pressure," Khadse said.