The blot of multi-crore irrigation scam in Vidarbha has not spared even BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Now, his close associate and BJP MLC, Mitesh Bhangdia -- a construction contractor by profession -- is in trouble.
The HT Mendhegiri committee that reviewed the 22.93-km left bank main canal of Gosikhurd project in Vidarbha, constructed by Bhangdia's company -- MG Bhangdia Infrastructure -- has found that the entire work is of highly inferior quality and beyond repair. The committee, therefore, has asked the company to demolish the entire left bank canal and to reconstruct it.
"Quality of the concrete lining for the entire canal length is very poor. Hence, there is no propriety in suggesting any remedial measures for its repair as it will not be effective," the report said.
Incidentally, the whistleblower chief engineer of Maharashtra Engineering Research Institute (MERI), Nashik, Vijay Pandhare - who blew the lid off the mega irrigation scam - was one of the members of the panel that submitted its probe report to the government a few months ago. The Central Water Commission guidelines also clearly stipulate that wherever the quality is not up to the mark, work needs to be redone.
The Gosikhurd irrigation project was launched in 1983 at a cost of Rs. 372-crore. But more than two decades later, the project remains incomplete and is mired in numerous controversies and scams. As a result, the project cost has escalated to an estimated Rs. 18,000-crore.
The Gosikhurd project got the national project status in 2008. It was one of the biggest weapons in the BJP-led Opposition's armoury against Maharashtra government during the last winter session of the state legislature. Leader of Opposition Eknath Khadse (BJP), who demanded a white paper on the project, took the state government to task for the inferior quality of work and astronomical escalation in the project cost.
Several committees found fault with the quality of work on the dam and found lapses by contractors who worked in connivance with the local irrigation officers.
The work of the left bank main canal started in February 2007 and was completed in May 2009 at a cost of Rs. 36.32 crore. The panel also criticized the project's supervising engineers for their casual approach.
No compensation would be paid to the contractor for the reconstruction and the latter would have to bear the entire cost, the committee said in a letter to the irrigation department.
It was said that the Mendhegiri committee recommendations were conveyed to the Bhangadia's construction company that accepted the mistakes and agreed to rebuild the left bank canal.
But Bhangadia's construction company demolished only 4-km stretch of the canal recently and started the reconstruction a few days ago. Despite a negative report, the irrigation department is yet to blacklist the company.
"The work was executed between February 2007 to May 2009. Within these 27 months, it was found that the concerned chief engineer and the superintending engineer rarely inspected the work and failed to effectively discharge their duties," the report said.
The report also said that the construction engineers and quality control engineers did not execute their duty properly that led to the poor quality of the work. But no action was initiated against any engineer of the department in this regard so far.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Bhangadia, however, described the issue as minor errors that often happen in construction business. "We are redoing the works according to the norms and guidelines of the irrigation department," he added.
Meanwhile, the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court on Friday directed the state government, the irrigation department and other concerned to file their replies regarding the alleged siphoning of thousands of crores spent on irrigation projects of Vidarbha within the next six weeks.
Filing a PIL, Jan Manch, and an NGO pointed out that even after spending crores of rupees, the works in Goshikhurd irrigation project were sub-standard. "All these works were executed by political influential contractors under patronage of erring officials and their equally "callous" political masters. It demanded a CBI inquiry into the "irrigation scam" and described this as "criminal conspiracy to play a fraud on the Constitution and deprive Vidarbha of its legitimate due."
Anil Kilor, the counselor of Jan Manch also demanded that all the concerned contractors of Goshikhurd should be blacklisted for their inferior and sub-standard works there.