An irrigation project in eco-sensitive Sawantwadi, which has run into opposition from locals for being built to supply water to a proposed mine and an industrial zone, may not even meet the norms set by the recent white paper on irrigation.
On Monday, senior officials in the irrigation department told HT that the cost of the Sarambala medium irrigation project in Sindhudurg district could have increased to Rs600 crore since 2004, when it was fixed at Rs184.73 crore, if the prevailing market rate is taken into account. Escalations are due to increase in cost of labour, transport, materials, and compensation and relocation of project-affected villagers.
According to the white paper, irrigation projects can go ahead if 25% of the proposed budget is exhausted and 25% of the work has been completed. Going by this criteria, the Sarambala project has used up 25% of the 2004 budget and 35% of the work has been done. However, if the cost escalation according to the current market rate of Rs600 crore is considered, the irrigation department has spent only nine percent of the outlay.
“The white paper on irrigation has not considered the current market value while proposing the criteria for projects that can go ahead. If one goes by the prevailing rate, the Sarambala project shouldn’t continue,” said the officials requesting anonymity.
V Giriraj, principal secretary, state irrigation department, refused to talk to HT.
Environmentalists allege that completion of 35% work as claimed by the irrigation department is an exaggeration. “With only a 100-metre stretch of the river diverted, work on dam construction, acquiring land and building canals, as well as acquiring alternate land for farming for the relocated villagers is pending. So, only less than 10% of work has been done,” said Stalin D, environmentalist with Vanashakti, a non-government organisation.