From Rs. 78 crore in 1977-78 to a staggering Rs. 7270.32 crore in 2010 — with a cost escalation of massive proportions, the mammoth Saryu Nahar Pariyojana (SNP) on the left bank of river Ghagra in Uttar Pradesh represents one of the most disconcerting aspects of the State’s development. The major irrigation project is yet to be completed, 36 years after it was started. Now, the project schedule has been revised to March 2016 when all the development works are expected to be completed.

Considering that the project schedule along with its estimated cost has been revised at least 10 times in the last 36 years, the latest project completion deadline cannot be taken for granted, although the Centre’s decision to include the SNP in the list of National Irrigation Schemes has given a fresh ray of hope to the project.

The Samajwadi Party government has also chipped in to ensure the completion of the project. “Since acquisition of land has been a major impediment, a government order was issued in October 2012 for acquiring land through mutual agreement with the land owners,” said Anand Mohan Prasad, Chief Engineer (Pariyojana), Level 1. And, the progress has been positive, he added. “The Central Water Commission and the Planning Commission have directed the State government to complete the project by March 2016,” Mr. Prasad said.

Development in Uttar Pradesh has not matched pace with the homilies and promises mouthed by its political rulers and the SNP is one such project which has remained incomplete despite the “efforts” made by successive governments.

Essentially a river diversion project involving Ghagra, Saryu and Rapti, the SNP was started in 1977-78 with the objective of creating irrigation potential in 12.00 lakh hectares through a massive network of canals, pump canals, submersible tube wells and surface channels in nine districts of Purvanchal (eastern U.P.) — Basti, Bahraich, Gonda, Balrampur, Shravasti, Siddhartnagar, Sant Kabir Nagar, Gorakhpur and Maharajganj. A total length of about 9,205-km-long canal system had been envisaged in the nine districts with the main canal, the Saryu main canal (257 km-long) and the Rapti main canal (125 km-long). Four pump canals in Domariyaganj, Utraula, Ayodhya and Gola are also part of the project and since the flow in Ghagra, Saryu and Rapti recedes after December, 3,600 submersible tube wells are to be bored. In addition, the construction of about 9,000-km-long surface channels is also included in the project.

When the scheme was started in 1977-78 with an estimated cost of Rs. 78 crore, it was scheduled to have been completed in 10 years. Under the Congress rule in 1984-85, the project cost was revised to Rs. 222 crore with Rs. 155 crore spent on the scheme till then. In 1985-86, the cost was pegged at Rs. 696 crore and the project scheduled to be completed in 1992-93. The Congress went out of power in 1989. In 1992, when the BJP was in power, the SNP cost was revised to Rs. 1,256 crore in accordance with the 1992 prices. Till the end of the 1992-93 fiscal year, only about Rs. 354 crore was made available and all the works could not be completed.

A fresh initiative was taken in 1998 but by then the project cost had gone up to Rs. 2,810 crore. The cost revision proposal was sent to Central Water Commission (CWC) by the State government the same year and the technical committee of CWC in its 72 meeting on January 20, 2000, approved the project cost at Rs. 2,735.16 crore. In 2002, the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) recommended an amendment in phase I and II development works of the project. Accordingly, the estimated cost was fixed at Rs. 2,098.82 crore.

In 2006, the project cost was revised and fixed at Rs. 2,702.38 crore. The latest revision was made in 2008 when the estimated cost of the huge irrigation scheme was revised to a massive Rs. 7,270.32 crore. The cost was worked out after taking into account the entire gamut of pending construction works. The revised estimate was approved by the technical committee of CWC on July 1, 2010 and in 2012 the Saryu scheme was made a national irrigation project.

Things have now started moving again but it remains to be seen whether the fresh deadline of March 2016 would be maintained. For, cost escalation coupled with shortage of funds is only one of the reasons for the project running behind schedule. “When the pariyojana was started, the labour charge was Rs. 3 per day, now it is between Rs. 150 and Rs. 180 per day, not to mention the rising cost of building material,” said Mr. Prasad. He said with the SNP being taken over as U.P.’s first National Irrigation Scheme, it is expected there will no resource crunch. About the physical progress, the official said 75 per cent development works involving a expenditure of about Rs. 3,000 crore have been completed.

Yet, notwithstanding the availability of funds, command area development wherein irrigation water reaches to the end user through kulabas is a major constraint. Despite the 75 per cent of the development works having being completed, the command area for irrigating 12 lakh hectares has not been developed, though efforts towards on-field development (OFD) are underway.