Gosikhurd was sanctioned in 1983 and meant to irrigate 2.5 lakh hectares in Vidarbha

As Manikrao Gedam sits outside his three-room house, he wonders how he has benefited by giving up his 10 acres for the Gosikhurd irrigation project at Bhandara in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region.

For that matter, he wonders what anyone has gained from it.

Today, he has nothing else, but the house in a resettlement colony; his sons are unemployed; and the ambitious project that he gave his land for is still incomplete.

“We got Rs. 50,000 an acre in compensation. Tell me where I can buy fertile land at that price?” he asks. “Many people were displaced, seven villages were moved. Several others are still waiting. But what is all this for?”

The project on the Wainganga river, near Nagpur, was sanctioned in 1983, and was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in April 1988. In 24 years, its cost has escalated from Rs. 372 crore to Rs. 7,778 crore, till November last year, according to the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).

At an internal meeting held in November 2011, VIDC officials said Rs. 5,099 crore had so far been spent on the project.

Activists say that given the tardy progress, the total cost may go up to Rs.14,000 crore. The project is touted as a panacea for Vidarbha's agricultural woes, attempting as it does to irrigate 2.5 lakh hectares, thus facilitating “development of the region, an increase in the income of beneficiaries and reduction in poverty,” according to the VIDC.

In 2008, Gosikuhurd was named a national project, so it became eligible for funds from the Central government.

While the 11-km dam is complete, canals meant to take the water to farmers are still incomplete; this only makes up Phase-I of the project. The distribution network, meant to ensure last-mile connectivity, is completed to15 per cent, says a senior VIDC official.

Of the 85 villages that will be affected by the project, only seven have been rehabilitated.

Vilas Bhongade of the Gosikhurd Prakalpagrasta Sangharsha Samiti says the project is mired in delays because of the problems in land acquisition, lack of political will and corruption.

“There is no will, neither for rehabilitation nor for irrigation. The government is lost in its own battles.”

Last month, amid reports of long delays and corruption in the State's irrigation projects, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan announced that the government would soon release a White Paper on the pending projects. Gosikhurd will be one of the projects that will be probed.

The irrigation portfolio is long held by the Nationalist Congress Party, an ally of the ruling Congress, and the White Paper may trigger a conflict between the two, sources say.

Visit cancelled

Union Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal was to have visited Gosikhurd in June to review the work, a visit that many hoped would expedite the project. He was also supposed to announce Rs. 450 crore for the project, approved under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme.

The visit was cancelled; the future of the funding is once again uncertain.

After years of struggle, Mr. Bhongade has lost faith in the mechanism. “Even if Rs. 450 crore is sanctioned, it will make little difference. The contractors' pending bills will amount to Rs.200 crore. There is no reason to believe that the causes for the delays till now will not persist for another 25 years.”

VIDC executive director P.C. Zapke maintains that the project is on the “right path,” refusing to comment on the reasons for the delays.

At Mendha, Dadaji Agre, a fisherman until three years ago and now a ‘project-affected person,' offers more explanations than any official. “We were just given land, but what happens to our livelihood? People learnt from our experience and now are refusing to give up their land. Look at me, I haven't caught any fish for the past five days. I wouldn't want anyone else to suffer like this.”

New study sought

Meanwhile, the Gosikhurd Prakalpagrasta Sangharsha Samiti is demanding that a new study be done, arguing that the socio-economic scenario has changed since 1983. “The only way ahead is to start afresh,” Mr. Bhongade says.