Improper budgetary allocation is the chief reason for irrigation projects being held up in Maharashtra, Nationalist Congress Party Chief Sharad Pawar said on Saturday.
“Proper fund allotment has not been done for nearly two decades by the State government,” he said, speaking to The Hindu, in a veiled pot-shot at the Congress. The State needs a staggering Rs. 75,000 crore to complete its pending irrigation projects.
Without specifying what had caused the massive cost escalation, Mr. Pawar merely said project costs had also risen owing to the increase in the price of raw materials over the years.
On Friday, Chief Minister and Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan bluntly said the contractor-driven nexus, coupled with bad planning, resulted in massive backlog and cost-overruns.
While he rebutted suggestions of the Congress and the NCP playing politics over a ‘White Paper’ on irrigation, Mr. Chavan said it was imperative to know how the money would be spent on completing these projects in the future.
The issue of ‘White Paper’ has driven a wedge in the ruling Congress-NCP coalition, with the State Economic Survey 2011-12 unravelling that Maharashtra’s irrigation capacity had shown an imperceptible rise of 0.1 per cent though Rs. 70,000 crore had been pumped in between 2000 and 2010.
This fact prompted Mr. Chavan to direct the Water Resources Department, headed by Water Resources Minister and senior NCP leader Sunil Tatkare to come out with a White Paper to clear the air on the state of irrigation — a move that has not gone down well with the NCP.
Mr. Tatkare disputed the Economic Survey findings, claiming that the irrigation capacity had risen from 0.1 to 5.17 per cent in the last decade.
“The main purpose was to disseminate information to the public on the massive cost-overruns of pending projects. The massive backlog resulted in irrigation projects being converted into potable drinking water [sources] in some parched districts,” said Mr. Chavan.
Ideally, the status of all pending projects ought to be put on the websites of various departments, Mr. Chavan said, adding he was working towards a systems-based approach that would enhance coordination between the two parties.
However, a top Congress functionary hinted that the NCP was reluctant to bring out the White Paper.
“The Economic Survey claims a 0.1 per cent increase, while Mr. Tatkare claims that the irrigation capacity had risen 51 times to 5.17 per cent. One of the figures has got to be wrong. There cannot be such a big discrepancy,” the source told The Hindu, adding the subject of White Paper on irrigation touched a raw nerve with the Congress ally.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, Mr. Pawar met Mr. Chavan to confer on a range of issues including financially distressed co-operative banks in six districts.
Funds to be pumped in
Mr. Pawar said funds would pumped in, in a bid to revive three District Co-operative Banks (DCBs) in Jalna, Osmanabad and Wardha that have a high negative net worth and have had their banking licences revoked by the Reserve Bank of India.
Mr. Chavan and Mr. Pawar would meet Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on Monday on reviving the distressed DCBs.