The real reason why Maharashtra has 690 pending irrigation projects that will require Rs78,450 crore of public money for completion lies in the gaps and silences of the voluminous white paper prepared by the water resources department and presented on Friday.
The second part of the white paper lays down reasons for cost escalation, categorising them as increase in rates, land acquisition, rehabilitation, changes in design and scope of the project.
However, the report is silent on whether there have been irregularities while increasing project costs such as inflated market costs, high transportation costs, changing scope and design of projects.
The white paper has glossed over reports submitted by fact-finding committees appointed by the state to probe allegations. The Vadenere committee report on Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation projects, the Mendhigiri committee report, the MK Kulkarni committee report on Marathwada barrages find no mention.
These reports have traced cost escalations to several irregularities aimed at benefiting contractors.
For instance, the white paper states that Gosikhurd saw a hike from Rs372.22 crore in 1983 to the proposed Rs13,739 crore in 2011-12. The escalation is because of delay - it started a decade after the first estimate was drawn up – so material costs have risen by 396%, among other things. The Vadenere report has pointed out that in Gosikhurd and other Vidarbha projects, costs escalations were a result of inflated material costs, transport costs, including taxes, etc.
In recent projects commissioned in Konkan, such as Balganga and Kalu, there is an attempt to defend wrongdoing. Kalu has been stayed as work began without forest clearance. Balganga saw a 120% hike within two years. It has not been cleared, but the white paper reasons that the cost will rise as protests did not permit a proper survey and that after work began hard rock was found, which will need deeper excavation.