Mumbai Local

CAG finds leaks in river, lake schemes

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s inspection report on the National River Conservation Scheme (NRCS) and the State Lake Conservation Plan (SLCP) in Maharashtra has a bleak outlook on vital water sources in Mumbai and for the State.

The conservation of highly polluted rivers in Maharashtra and the rejuvenation of depleting water bodies around Mumbai are being carried out in violation of environment norms, the report says, even while the authorities responsible for supervising these works dole out further tenders and finances in violation of norms, causing losses to the state exchequer.

The State departments and agencies responsible for implementing the projects frequently submitted revised estimates for the delayed projects to claim needless funds from the Centre (both schemes are either fully or partly funded by the centre).

The NRCS works are rejuvenation of the depleting rivers Tapi and Panchganga, spread across 12 Assembly constituencies in Marathwada.

The two projects are vital for the State, not only acting as source of water but covering a vast drainage area.

The Tapi provides 191 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water to the state, but much of this is heavily polluted.

The Panchganga is one of the most polluted rivers in the state, leading to frequent epidemics in the Kolhapur region; it is in desperate need of rejuvenation.

The inspection reports reveal how tenders were awarded to contractors in violation of guidelines in the Tapi and Panchganga projects. In the Panchganga cleaning work, the local civic body, Kolhapur Municipal Corporation (KMC), awarded a Letter of Intent (LoI) to contractors M/s Vishwa Infrastructure Ltd without a vital NoC from the environment department, government of India. “This was irregular and in contravention of the rules,” the report says. The Hindu has a copy of the report.

The KMC even claimed an expenditure of Rs 53.88 crore without even completing the work on the ground. In its letter to Director, National River Conservation, New Delhi, KMC showed up-to-date work of Rs 53.88 crore but it had actually completed only two works, of Rs 12.18 cr. “The remaining civil, electrical, mechanical, that of the rising main (2.8 km length), sewage treatment plan (76 MLD at Kasba Bawada), staff quarters, administrative buildings were in progress.”

The cost of both the projects was to be shared by the Centre and the State in a 70:30 ratio. The report reveals that works worth Rs 77.28 crore in both the projects were stuck due to frequent delays, but the authorities did not shy away from revising estimates at regular intervals, up to four times more than the original amount. The first revised estimate of Rs 4.416 crore was submitted to Additional Director, Environment and Forest Department, New Delhi, on January 11, 2011.

“Non-completion of this scheme was on account of sanction/rejection of revised estimates. This led to delay of four years over the set deadline and funds of Rs 96 lakhs being blocked for nearly six years,” the report said.

Himanshu Thakkar, who works as a coordinator for the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, an NGO, told The Hindu “NRCS is a mismanaged scheme across the country with a focus only on buildings, infrastructure, and finances; not on governance. It is surprising that the NRCS authority is headed by the Prime Minister’s Office but the authority has not met once in 10 years.”

Several lake rejuvenation works, under the State Lake Conservation Plan (SLCP), the report reveals, also lead to waste of state exchequer funds. Delays in the works at lakes around Mumbai — Vimal Lake at Virar, Khandala Lake at Lonavala, Sharlot (or Charlotte) Lake at Matheran, Dedargaon Lake (Dhule), Gandhisagar Lake (Nagpur), Peer Lake (Nandurbar), Moti Lake (Sawantwadi), Kot Lake (Chandrapur) — have cost the state Rs 11 crore.

The conservation work on Vimal Lake was delayed by a year, with funds of Rs 2.4 crore blocked. Officials from the local corporation said it was due to protest from tribal inhabitants of the area that the work got delayed. But CAG concluded that delay has meant the project is of no use any longer. “Non-completion of this scheme within the deadline of March, 2014, meant delay and blockage of funds. The very purpose of this scheme was never served,” said the report.

Speaking to The Hindu, executive engineer, Vasai-Virar Corporation, Rajendra Lad said the work got stuck because of various reasons over the years, including protests by tribals, issues with clearing encroachment and drains. “This work from the start had many hurdles,” he said.

The Rs 5.5 crore rejuvenation of Khandala Lake is in worse shape; work has been delayed by three years and funds worth Rs 32 lakh were blocked due to procedural lapses. The conservation work on Sharlot Lake in Matheran was approved at a cost of Rs 3.6 crore in 2007, but CAG found that even after the Centre released a token instalment of Rs 1 crore, the work was never completed, after incurring an initial expenditure of Rs 0.63 cr. The pretext: unavailability of labour because of geographical conditions in Matheran.

“This scheme was delayed for over seven years, defeating its very purpose.”

During the scrutiny of cash books of the NRCS and SLCP the CAG teams found that advance payments and monetary transactions were not recorded in the books, no surprise checks were carried out, vouchers were not scrutinised, huge amounts — to the tune of Rs 11 crore — were never disbursed. The report called this ‘highly illegal’.

The CAG completed its scrutiny into the projects in February 2015, and will submit its report next year.

Under Scanner

Irregularities and delays to the tune of Rs 11 crore in works on lakes around Mumbai:

Vimal lake at Virar

Khandala lake at Lonavala

Sharlot lake at Matheran

Dedargaon lake (Dhule)

Gandhisagar lake (Nagpur)

Peer Lake (Nandurbar)

Moti Lake (Sawantwadi)

Kot Lake (Chandrapur)

These lakes are being rejuvenated and revived under the Central and State funded scheme: State Lake Conservation Plan (SLCP).

River Tapi and River Panchganga are being rejuvenated and revived under the Central government funded National River Conservation Scheme (NRCS).

Lifeline

1) River Tapi: Covers a vast area in Maharashtra, running nearly for 228 km

Major concerns: Dwindling water availability and high pollution in certain areas near Nashik, Amravati, Akola and Malegaon

2) River Panchganga: One of the holiest rivers of Maharashtra

Major concern: Industrial pollution

A petition in the Bombay High Court highlighted the river pollution resulting in jaundice outbreak in Ichalkaranji and Kolhapur regions leading to 24 deaths in 2013. The petition stated that local municipal corporation were discharging nearly 100 million litres of industrial waste into the river every day. The river originates from Prayag Sangam.

Conservation funding

Vimal Lake, Vasai Virar

cost Rs 7.07 crore

Government of Maharashtra undertook work of conservation of Vimal Lake in March, 2012 at an estimated cost of Rs 7.07 crore. The rest of the fund of Rs 42 crore is being spent by the local corporation.

Khandala Lake (Bhushi, Pavna, Tungarli)

cost Rs 5.34 crore

The project of conservation and beautification on the lake was approved in March, 2013 at an estimated funding of Rs 5.34 cr. All three are popular picnic spots for Mumbaikars and provide water to nearby power plants.

Sharlot Lake, Matheran

cost Rs 3.63crore

A major source of tourism in Matheran, the lake is a popular spot and is highly polluted from tourist activities. A conservation plan was approved at the cost of Rs 3.63 in 2007, but has not made much headway since.


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 4:55:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/cag-finds-leaks-in-river-lake-schemes/article7992651.ece

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