Maharashtra’s Anti-Corruption Bureau cleared Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar of allegations of corruption in connection with an irrigation scam a day after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Devendra Fadnavis resigned, and a day before the new alliance government led by Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray took over, Hindustan Times reported. On November 25, the agency had closed nine inquiries related to irrigation projects in the state, but said none of the cases involved the former water resources minister.

The bureau filed an affidavit in Bombay high court on November 27 while the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress strived to form the government. That day, Pawar returned to his party, following a short-lived rebellion and was welcomed with a hug by his cousin and parliamentarian Supriya Sule.

“The chairman of the VIDC/ Minister of WRD cannot be held responsible for the acts of executing agencies, as there is no legal duty on his part,” Superintendent of Police in the agency, Rashmi Nandedkar, told the High Court in the 16-page affidavit, according to The Indian Express. She was referring to Ajit Pawar’s tenure as chairperson of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, and in the state Cabinet during the rule of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. Among the allegations that agency looked into was the Rs 17,700-crore increase in costs of 32 irrigation projects in Vidarbha within three months when Pawar was in government.

Although the Nationalist Congress Party leader was never named by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, its former chief Sanjay Barve had told the Nagpur Bench of the High Court in 2018 that Pawar had intervened in the process of awarding contracts for irrigation projects. In its latest affidavit, the agency pinned the blame for irregularities on bureaucrats who were the principal secretary of the water ministry and the executive director of the irrigation development corporation at the time.

“The proposals for acceptance of the liability for the entire tender cost were being submitted to the chairman with the recommendation of the executive director,” the bureau said in the affidavit. “In some cases, the recommendations were also given by the principal secretary of the Water Resources Department, who is ex-officio managing director of the corporation.”

However, neither the executive director nor the managing director ever gave negative remarks on note-sheets about the tender cost, it added. “There is no evidence on record to say that the secretary of the department had briefed the minister of Water Resources Department about not accepting the liability of the tender work.”

Devendra Fadnavis told Hindustan Times that the clean chit given to Pawar was “very surprising”. “How can one affidavit already filed by ACB be contradicted by another affidavit?” he asked. “I totally oppose this and I am sure that the court will not accept this.” He denied any knowledge of the affidavit.