A political storm erupted in Maharashtra as the state government's much-awaited white paper on the irrigation department was released here Friday, the opposition calling it a "black paper".
The opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine pounced on the government, saying it was a "black paper", and threatened to disrupt the proceedings of the ensuing winter session of the state legislature next month.
Leader of Opposition in the legislative council Vinod Tawde accused Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of "grovelling" before the Congress' alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), in order to "save his chair".
Terming it a manipulation of figures, Tawde demanded setting up of a Special Investigating Team (SIT) on the lines of one that was set up for the Telgi scam, to probe the irrigation department's "irregularities".
Shiv Sena spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut said that "anybody can get a clean chit in Maharashtra" and demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the matter.
However, the NCP has defended the state's former water resources minister Ajit Pawar and demanded that he should reinstated as deputy chief minister, a post he quit Sep 25 following alleged irregularities worth Rs.20,000 crore in irrigation projects during his 1999-2009 tenure.
The white paper was tabled before the state cabinet Thursday night and made public here Friday.
Farmland activist and Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti chief Kishore Tiwari said the white paper was disappointing and appeared to be a "clean chit" to the ministers.
In a statement, Tiwari urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to initiate action. He claimed that the alleged irrigation scam was directly related to over 7,000 farmers' suicides in Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra in the past seven years.
Threatening to launch a movement against the government, Tiwari said that hundreds of farmers' widows would burn the "fabricated" white paper Dec 11 on the eve of the legislature session.
Reacting to the developments, whistle-blower Vijay Pandhare -- who is chief engineer, Water Resources Department and member of the state advisory committee on irrigation -- said that the basic issues raised have not been covered in the white paper.
The white paper, among other things, has said there has been a significant increase in the lands brought under irrigation under various heads in different sectors.
Without referring to the allegations of irregularities, the white paper has justified hike in project costs, blaming inflationary trends.