Patil-Krishna standoff to hit irrigation projects?

HUBLI July 3. Will the "growing differences" of opinion between the Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, and the Minister for Major and Medium Irrigation, H.K. Patil, affect the pace of the implementation of irrigation projects?

This is subject of discussions in political circles in the post-reshuffle days, in the context of the perceived moves of the Chief Minister to rein in his onetime trusted ally from North Karnataka.

When Mr. Krishna began his regime as the Chief Minister in 1999 and entrusted the important portfolio of Irrigation to Mr. Patil, both the Government and the minister were inheriting a legacy. For, the scenario was quite dismal because of the omissions and commissions of the governments which held office in the past, and the execution of irrigation projects, especially those in the Krishna Basin, was slow.

The Janata Dal Government (1994-1999) worsened the situation by its indiscreet handling of the sensitive issue of the height of the Alamatti Dam of the Upper Krishna, which resulted in the Supreme Court staying the construction, as a result of which Karnataka lost three years. The move on the part of the Steering Committee of the United Front, with H.D. Deve Gowda as the Prime Minister, to go into the complaint of Andhra Pradesh against raising the dam height to 544 metres, proved to be a mill around the neck for Karnataka, since its report was relied upon by the Supreme Court to decide that the height of the dam would be 519 metres.

The result was that Karnataka found itself unable to utilise 250 to 300 tmcft. of the 734 tmcft. of water allocated to the State under Scheme A by the Bachawat Tribunal, by the deadline of May 2000 set by the tribunal. The execution of projects, including those started five decades ago, was slow, and Karnataka was without any blueprint for taking up new projects.

Under the circumstances, a gigantic task awaited the new government. It started work with gusto, with Mr. Krishna supporting Mr. Patil, who knew the problems of the irrigation sector and the remedial action needed.

The pace of execution of the projects was increased, a new corporation — Karnataka Neeravari Nigam — was started to implement projects other than Upper Krishna (for which separate a corporation was already functioning). New projects such as Markandeya, Singatalur Lift, and Hipparagi were taken up, and the project proposals pending with the Union Ministry of Water Resources were zealously pursued.

In administration, the procedure was streamlined and transparency introduced in the matter of issuance of tenders. A water policy was formulated, and the Government made a commitment to use irrigation to combat drought and take steps to bring about the participation of the beneficiaries in the management of irrigation.

While all this brought laurels and boosted the image of the Government, some rumblings were heard within the ruling party. It was said that the Irrigation Department was not making any contribution to the party coffers, and that the change in system had taken away the pecuniary interests of legislators in the award of contracts on piecework basis.

It was taken for granted that Mr. Krishna fully supported the Irrigation Minister in giving a new sense of purpose and urgency to irrigation projects. However, some odd aspects of the Government's response made for speculation over differences in the perception of the Chief Minister and the Irrigation Minister.It was considered odd that no Congress leader except the General Secretary of the AICC, Oscar Fernandes, campaigned for Mr. Patil in the election to the Legislative Council from the West Graduates' constituency, which Mr. Patil won for a record fourth time with an impressive margin.

On the other hand, the Chief Minister, it was said, toyed with the idea of a Cabinet reshuffle in the midst of the campaigning. However, he gave up the idea.

Mr. Patil has a busy development agenda on hand as he begins his fourth tenure as MLC. He wants to complete all projects before the end of the Government's five-year term.

Will Mr. Patil get the cooperation and understanding of the Chief Minister, or will the traducers within the Government and the party continue clipping his wings as they did in the recent reshuffle of the ministry?

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