Activists allege the Maharashtra government is awarding dam projects to contractors at inflated prices, with little regard for rules and environmental impact
Activists fighting corruption in dam projects in Maharashtra have come up with an ironic standard operating procedure (SOP) to fight against scams in the irrigation sector. With fresh data on cost escalations, flaws in tendering process and violations on the Susari dam in Thane district and Kondhane in Raigad district flowing in, they are demanding an investigation into such gross irregularities.
According to information received, some of it sourced under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, costs have spiked manifold in the case of four dams — Kondhane (from the initial Rs. 56 crore to now revised Rs. 328 crore), Balganga (from Rs. 420 crore to Rs. 1320 crore), Kalu (from Rs. 640 crore to Rs. 1400 crore) and Shai (from Rs. 410 crore to Rs. 1139 crore).
Hitting out at the State government for alleged complicity, Mayank Gandhi of India Against Corruption said the idea was to get the dam projects (constructed mostly for drinking water around Mumbai) flagged off without a single mandatory clearance or assessment of whether the dams were needed, and later to inflate costs and ensure quick approval. In some cases, the dams were 60 per cent complete. The government had to cancel a contract for Kondhane after the Governor’s intervention. The Kalu project was stayed due to lack of forest clearance.
In the case of the Kondhane dam in Karjat, technical sanction was given within 24 hours with a budgetary approval of Rs. 56 crore and a height of 39 metre in 2011. Tenders were advertised in two local papers on June 1, 2011 with a submission deadline of a week against the Central Vigilance Commission norms of four to six weeks. By July 22, the contract was awarded to FA Enterprises, Mr. Gandhi pointed out. In August, the budget was hiked six times to Rs. 328 crore, without re-tendering, and the dam height was raised to 71 metre.
The Konkan Irrigation Development Authority (KIDC), which is executing the project through contracts, does not allow companies which have a common director to apply. Of the three firms shortlisted for Kondhane, FA Enterprises and FA Construction have common directors, employees and the same address. In addition, FA Enterprises or FA Construction has been awarded 13 dam projects in violation of KIDC norms which say only three projects can be given to one contractor, Mr. Gandhi said.
Similarly, in the case of the Susari medium irrigation dam, which is being built in Dahanu taluka of Thane district to supply water to the Vasai Virar region, the dam had administrative approval for Rs. 2 crore which jumped to Rs. 280 crore at the time of tendering, and approval was given within a few days.
The Governor in 2011 had issued special directives saying no new irrigation projects should be initiated in the State till the backlog of 747 projects costing Rs. 75,366 crore are cleared.
However, the State Water Resources Department went ahead to clear several dams which start off as minor irrigation projects at a budget of a few crore and then shoot up over a thousand crore as in the cases of some dams. Since last December, the flow of replies for information sought under RTI has dried up despite the Chief Information Commissioner’s order to expedite the job, Mr. Gandhi said.