Author: Prity M. Bhagat, KES Shri. Jayantilal H. Patel Law College, Mumbai 


The Maharashtra irrigation scam, also known as the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam or Maharashtra Watergate, is a significant corruption scandal that came to light around 2003. The scam involves allegations of large-scale corruption and mismanagement in the irrigation projects in the state of Maharashtra.


The alleged Maharashtra Irrigation Scam entailed financial misdeeds totaling ₹35,000 crore (US$4.2 billion) in Maharashtra from 1999 to 2009. The accusations of corruption emerged after the publication of the 2012 Economic Survey, which exposed that the state’s irrigation capacity had only increased by 0.1% over the past decade, despite a massive investment of ₹70,000 crore in various projects. Vijay Pandhare, a government-employed engineer, alleged that corrupt leaders had pocketed over half of the amount. The Maharashtra Government rejected the allegations, explaining that the 0.1% increase only applied to “well irrigation” and did not include other programs. It published a document, announcing a 28% increase in irrigation capacity and absolving its ministers of any wrongdoing.


Maharashtra has faced chronic water shortages, which prompted the state government to invest heavily in irrigation projects to improve water availability for agriculture and other needs. During the years 1999-2009, Ajit Pawar served as the irrigation minister of Maharashtra while leading the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). On 25 April 2008, Deputy Secretary TN Munde announced that the Irrigation Department was paying excessive amounts for raw materials and components, rather than adhering to the department’s set rates. On May 14th, 2008, Pawar’s office sent a letter to Munde requesting the cancellation of the circular and warning him against issuing any circular without the minister’s approval. Despite the significant investments, many projects either remained incomplete or failed to deliver the expected benefits.

Between 14 and 19 December 2009, Loksatta newspaper published a series of articles in Marathi which alleged that Pawar had given two contracts totaling ₹1,385 crore to Avinash Bhonsle, a builder and contractor, at a higher cost. In November 2010, Pawar transferred the Irrigation Department to Sunil Tatkare, another NCP leader. He additionally assigned two investigative groups, which uncovered multiple financial inconsistencies. Pawar was appointed as the Deputy Chief Minister in December 2010.


The scam centers around allegations that government officials and contractors colluded to inflate project costs, approve substandard work, and misappropriate funds.  Many irrigation projects saw cost overruns, delays, and incomplete work, leading to questions about the misuse of public funds.

It’s alleged that only a fraction of the allocated funds were actually used for their intended purpose, with the rest siphoned off through corrupt practices.

Ajit Pawar resigned on 25 September amid corruption allegations. In October, Tehelka’s Ashish Khetan alleged that Pawar changed administrative processes for processing files related to new projects, bypassed officials who reported wrongdoing, secured advance payments from contractors, ignored delays and accepted shoddy work. In three months of 2009, Ajit Pawar accepted cost inflation and increased the cost of 32 irrigation projects in Vidarbha by ₹ 17,700 crore.

NCP councilors Sandeep Bajoriya and Satish Chauhan were among the contractors awarded the controversial contracts. Nagpur-based businessman Ajay Sancheti, who later became a BJP Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP), was also awarded irrigation contracts worth over ₹ 3,000 crore. 

Government regulations prohibit companies from entering into more than three contracts. Sancheti defied this rule by entering into contracts under the names of two companies: Shakti Kumar M Sancheti Ltd. And SMS Infrastructure Ltd. When he won the contracts, the cost of the project was increased by increasing the scope. Other contractors found guilty of irregularities were Pune-based Soma Enterprises.


Various investigative agencies, including the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, have looked into the allegations.  The CAG reports highlighted numerous irregularities in the approval and execution of the projects, including violations of norms and guidelines.

  • The ACB has been at the forefront of investigating the alleged corruption in the irrigation projects. Multiple FIRs  have been filed against various officials and contractors involved in the projects. The ACB conducted extensive audits and investigations into specific projects, examining cost overruns, delays, and procedural violations.
  • The CAG conducted audits on the expenditure and execution of irrigation projects. The CAG reports highlighted serious discrepancies, including cost escalations, non-adherence to procedural norms, and incomplete or non-functional projects despite substantial financial outlays.
  • Investigations revealed that many projects bypassed standard tendering processes, with contracts awarded without competitive bidding or through irregular means. There were instances of project approvals being granted despite the absence of necessary clearances and feasibility studies
  • Funds meant for irrigation projects were allegedly siphoned off through various fraudulent means, including inflated bills, ghost contractors, and kickbacks. The financial mismanagement and corruption resulted in huge losses to the state exchequer.

Judicial Proceedings:

The judicial proceedings in the Maharashtra irrigation scam have involved various legal actions, investigations, and public interest litigations (PILs) aimed at uncovering the truth and holding those responsible accountable.

  • Activists and concerned people have filed multiple Public Interest Litigations at the Bombay High Court, requesting in-depth inquiries into the scam. PILs have called on the government to answer for its actions and to prosecute those responsible for the corruption and poor management of the irrigation projects.
  • The direction of the investigations and ensuring that the anti-corruption agencies carry out their inquiries professionally have been greatly assisted by the Bombay High Court. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and other investigating agencies have been asked to provide the court with progress reports on the investigations on a regular basis.
  • The issue has occasionally made its way to the Indian Supreme Court, especially in situations where the Bombay High Court’s rulings have been appealed. On occasion, the Supreme Court has issued orders to guarantee the complete and objective examination of the claims.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) audit reports, which the court has reviewed, revealed notable inconsistencies in the irrigation projects’ financial management and implementation. Evidence of cost overruns, poor craftsmanship, unfinished projects, and procedural infractions have all been presented in court.
  • The judiciary has stressed the need for accountability, directing the state government and investigative agencies to take necessary actions against those found guilty.
  • There have been demands for the prosecution of high-ranking officials and politicians involved in the scam, though actual prosecutions have been slow and limited.


The large scale and complexity of the irrigation projects involved have made the investigations intricate and time-consuming. Multiple projects and numerous officials are under scrutiny, adding layers of complexity to the case. Allegations of political interference have been a significant challenge, potentially hindering the progress of impartial investigations and judicial proceedings.  There has been considerable public and media pressure for swift justice and accountability, but the judicial and investigative processes have struggled to meet these demands promptly.


The Maharashtra irrigation scam case remains unresolved, with ongoing investigations and no final judicial judgment. The complexity of the case, coupled with political ramifications and procedural delays, continues to impede swift resolution. The judiciary and investigating agencies are still working towards uncovering the full extent of the alleged corruption and bringing those responsible to justice.


  1. What is the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam?

The Maharashtra Irrigation Scam, also known as the Maharashtra Watergate, involves allegations of large-scale corruption and mismanagement in various irrigation projects across Maharashtra. It surfaced around 2003 and pertains to cost overruns, procedural violations, substandard work, and misappropriation of funds meant for improving the state’s irrigation infrastructure.

  1. Who are the key figures involved in the scam?

Several politicians, bureaucrats, and contractors are implicated in the scam. Ajit Pawar, a senior leader from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the then Deputy Chief Minister, is a prominent figure whose role has been scrutinized due to his position as the Water Resources Minister during the period of alleged irregularities.

  1. Which agencies are investigating the scam?

The primary agencies involved in investigating the scam are the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. These agencies have conducted extensive audits and probes into the various projects and financial transactions.

  1. Why has there been no final judgment yet?

The lack of a final judgment is due to several factors, including the complexity of the case, the involvement of numerous projects and officials, political interference, and the extensive nature of the investigations required.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *