Irrigation capacity has risen to 5.17% in last decade: Water Minister; move to bring back Ajit Pawar?

The Maharashtra government on Thursday finally tabled the long-awaited white paper on irrigation in the Cabinet.

Disputing the findings of the economic survey that had put the growth in the State’s irrigation capacity at a mere 0.1 per cent, Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare said that the State’s irrigation capacity had risen to 5.17 per cent in the last decade.

The economic survey for 2011-12 had revealed that the irrigation capacity had shown an imperceptible rise of 0.1 per cent despite funds amounting to Rs. 70,000 crore being pumped in the decade between 2000 and 2010

“The irrigation capacity would have risen to 6.5 per cent had it not been for the increased diversion of water resources for industrial use and domestic purposes,” claimed Mr. Tatkare, refusing to answer questions on what exactly the paper entailed.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan remained tight-lipped, stating: “In May this year, I had assured that the State government would come out with a white paper on the status of irrigation in Maharashtra that would enable the administration to decide on a future course of action.”

The document, in two volumes, would be uploaded on the Irrigation Department website soon, said Mr. Chavan.

While the first volume explains the cost overruns in irrigation projects, giving details on the increase in time, the second part details the status of every large and medium-sized project in the State, he informed reporters.

As per the white paper, there has been a 28 per cent growth in irrigated land in the State in the last decade, and a 68-69 thousand million cubic (TMC) ft increase in water provided for industry and domestic purpose.

According to details obtained by The Hindu, there is no mention of ‘corruption’ in any of the projects. As per the document, only Rs. 42,000 crore, and not Rs. 70,000 crore, had been spent on irrigation projects in the State during the last decade, which also included the costs of land acquisition and relief and rehabilitation.

It also boasts of the completion of 58 hydro-electric power projects with a power generation capacity of 3606 MW.

The tabling has sparked strong suggestions of the ‘white paper’ paving the way for the reinstatement of former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar in the Cabinet.

Mr. Pawar dramatically quit in September this year over allegations of giving clearances to more than 30 projects in Vidarbha between 2006 and 2009 totalling Rs. 20,000 crore without the mandatory clearance of the governing council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).

“There is a collective feeling among Nationalist Congress Party [NCP] workers that Mr. Ajit Pawar should be reinstated in the Cabinet,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik, commenting that the document finally rubbished the claims of the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party that there was massive corruption in irrigation projects in the State.

Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Vinod Tawade said that the document was a whitewash paper. The Opposition would publish a black paper on December 11, on the second day of the winter session of the legislature to be held in Nagpur, he said.

Mr. Tawade further said that by publishing the white paper, the government wanted to pave the way for Mr. Ajit Pawar’s return to the Cabinet; it was just like an “anticipatory bail.”

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