These have come up in tribal and forested areas without forest clearances and rehabilitation plans

The Maharashtra government has finally admitted to irregularities in at least one of the many dams being built for drinking water supply around Mumbai city and has cancelled the contract in the case of the Kondhane project on the Ulhas River in Raigad district.

For the past few years, protests have marked the construction of dams meant for water supply to cities in Thane and Raigad districts, as the government has allowed these dams to come up in tribal and forested areas without crucial forest clearances and proper rehabilitation plans in place. The contracts for these dams have been awarded in almost all cases to just one company, in violation of existing norms, and costs have been inflated over the years to match haphazard changes in the original plans.

The Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), which is building these dams, has been under fire for its inflated costs and other irregularities. In some instances, court cases have been filed, stalling the work.

Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayan intervened in May and wrote a letter to the government seeking a report on the Kondhane dam, citing violation of his directives.

There was a specific order in the Governor’s directives that the priority to committed expenditure in the irrigation sector should not be diluted by taking up new projects. In spite of this, the Kondhane dam was granted administrative approvals and work orders were issued, the Governor said. Besides, the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority has communicated to the Governor’s office that Kondhane dam has not been referred to it for clearance by the KIDC, which is a mandatory procedure.

In response to the Governor’s second letter, this time to Chief Minister E.B. Patil, Principal Secretary of the Water Resources Department, said in a letter dated May 31 that instructions had been issued to the Executive Director of KIDC to terminate the contract for the original work of the Kondhane dam (awarded to F.A. Enterprises), as the work had been taken up without fulfilling the conditions mentioned in the administrative approval.

He said it was proposed to take action against the officers concerned after inquiry. The work on the dam was stopped on April 11, 2012 and the expenditure on the project was nil.

While giving administrative approval for the project, the Water Resources Department said the current proposal for the Kondhane Dam should be kept on the shelf; and this sanction would hold good only after an assessment that would certify that the proposed dam would meet the expressed need for water. The letter was made available by India Against Corruption (IAC), whose member Anjali Damania, along with other activists, had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay High Court. Ms. Damania, who owns land in the vicinity of the project, obtained much of the information on the dam under the Right to Information Act before filing the petition. Administrative approval for this project of Rs. 80.35 crore was given last May by the government, but costs jumped to Rs. 435 crores later.

After initial approval, since two other nearby projects could not be taken up due to protests, the water storage capacity was increased in Kondhane to meet future drinking water requirements in the region.

In principle, approval was granted for this, and accordingly the capacity was proposed to be increased from 20.19 million cubic metres (Mcum) to 105.44 Mcum, Mr. Patil’s letter admitted. The work order for the additional portion for increased storage was given to the same agency by field officers under the KIDC. Now, this has been cancelled and the revised administrative approval has not been given by the State government, he said.

The proposed Kondhane dam is located in the vicinity of the Kondana caves, which are a protected archaeological monument, and there are restrictions on mining and construction activity within 300 metres. KIDC claims the dam does not violate these conditions. The project also submerges forest land.