Irrigation in deep water, Chavan calls for White Paper

Faced with mounting criticism of the irrigation sector, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Friday ordered that a White Paper be brought out by the department, headed by Nationalist Congress Party Minister Sunil Tatkare.

Speaking at the symposium on ‘Maharashtra – Kal, Aaj ani Udya' (Maharashtra Yesterday Today and Tomorrow) on the occasion of the birth centenary of Y.B. Chavan here, the Chief Minister admitted that irrigation potential had grown only by 0.1 per cent in the last decade in the State and said he would ask the department to examine the spending.

For some time mass organisations and Adivasis in Raigad and Thane districts have been fighting a battle against “unauthorised dams.”

On Thursday, a delegation met the Chief Minister to demand a stay on many dams coming up in the two adjoining districts of Mumbai, ostensibly to supply water to the city and other special industrial and housing projects.

Opposition too demands probe

The Opposition too has been demanding an inquiry into the irrigation “scams' involving huge cost overruns. It was pointed out to Mr. Chavan during the symposium that Rs. 70,000 crore was spent in the last decade with little results in terms of enhancing irrigation potential. While other States had increased their irrigation capacity, in Maharashtra it was around 17.9 per cent.

Brian Lobo of the Kashtakari Sanghatana said the delegation had demanded stopping all 15 or so dams which were coming up very fast without proper permission, and an inquiry into the irregularities.

India Against Corruption (IAC), which was part of the delegation, organised a meeting on dams and corruption on Friday.

IAC member Anjali Damania has filed a petition against the construction of the Kondane dam in Karjat, which has no proper approval, a fact she came to know thanks to the Right to Information Act.

In another instance, she said, the Balganga dam in Pen taluk of Raigad district started out with a budget of Rs. 488 crore, which is now hiked to Rs. 1,120 crore. A single contractor was in charge of constructing more than 10 of these projects, she said.

Bhaskar Dondre, one of the affected persons, said the government was going ahead with the Balganga dam construction without proper land acquisition in 13 villages, even though the people had got a stay from court. This was in violation of all laws of resettlement and rehabilitation which specified that displaced people be resettled first, said Ms. Damania.

In the case of the Kondane dam, work on which has been going at breakneck speed, the cost was first supposed to be Rs. 57 crore but this year the budget went up to Rs. 435 crore, she pointed out. Ms. Damania, who owns land near the project, said even getting information through RTI was difficult as no replies came within the stipulated 30 days.

Later, the replies revealed that only 25 per cent of water from the project was for drinking purposes and the remaining quantum was for special economic zones, industries and large housing projects in the region.

Indavi Tulpule of the Shramik Mukti Sanghatana, which works in Murbad taluk of Thane district, said there was a proposal to build dams across the Shahi and Kalu rivers, submerging 52 villages and 3,040 hectares of land. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which was building the Shahi dam, said it could not fund the resettlement as the cost was too high, Ms. Tulpule pointed out.

However, the dam got past the first stage of clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, based on the claim that the area had no forests or wild animals which, however, was not true, she added. Local villagers are planning to stop the construction. Authorities have imposed an order Section 144 of the Cr. PC in the area to prevent any agitation.

In the case of Kalu, villagers approached the Bombay High Court for a stay on the construction and the plea was granted.

Ms. Damania said there were seven dams coming up in Raigad, to be built by the Konkan Industrial Development Corporation, 20 in Thane and 26 in Nashik. Some of the dams near Mumbai are being built by the MMRDA and the Balganga dam by the City and Industrial Development Corporation(CIDCO).

In most cases there was no land acquisition or proper permission but work goes ahead and in Kondane, about half of it is already over, she says.

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