The State government, specifically the Public Works Department (PWD), has no clue as to what the farmers did with Rs.75 crore of Central funding meant for creating artificial recharge systems (ARS) in their agricultural fields.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report has found that only 21,214 out of 2.93 lakh farmers utilised the money to construct ARS, which defeated the objective of improving groundwater using rainwater run-off from their own agricultural fields.
The Centre's Ministry of Water Resources (MOWR) launched the scheme, ‘Artificial recharge to groundwater through dug wells' in seven States, including Tamil Nadu, in 2007. The scheme was to involve farmers for three years till 2010 and the average unit cost of construction of artificial recharge structure (ARS) was estimated at Rs 4,000.
The scheme provided for 100 per cent subsidy to small and marginal farmers and 50 per cent to other farmers owning dug wells in their fields. In April 2008, the State proposed 12.5 lakh wells in 232 over-exploited, critical and semi-critical blocks in 27 districts. A State Level Steering Committee (SLSC), headed by the Chief Secretary, was formed.
The State Ground and Surface Water Resources Data Centre, the nodal department, identified 4.19 lakh beneficiaries under the scheme. The SLSC approved and forwarded to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) the list containing 3.39 lakh beneficiaries for crediting the subsidy. Out of the Rs. 109.45 crore released by the NABARD to 2.93 lakh beneficiaries during 2008-10, the lead banks in districts credited Rs. 106.15 crore to 2.81 lakh beneficiaries' accounts.
The SLSC, in its fourth meeting in November 2008, instructed the nodal agency to ensure construction of the ARS by the beneficiaries to a minimum extent of 50 per cent of the wells. However, the SLSC in its fifth meeting in February 2009 continued to approve and forward further lists of beneficiaries to the NABARD. In October, it stopped processing of fresh applications due to poor progress.
Till March 2010, the nodal department had also spent Rs. 2.74 crore on activities such as conducting awareness programmes, training, field visits and monitoring. In October 2011, it reported that the construction of the ARS by 21,214 beneficiaries (only seven per cent) as against 2.93 lakh beneficiaries to whom subsidy was disbursed.
The CAG audit blamed the nodal department for failing to oversee the implementation of the scheme effectively and monitor the physical progress. Unable to accept the reply of the chief engineer of the nodal department who said it was the MOWR, which asked the State to keep disbursing the subsidy, the CAG referred the matter to the State government in May 2011. It did not receive a reply till January 2012.