The mess called irrigation

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
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  • Updated: May 06, 2012 01:35 IST

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's recent barb against Ajit Pawar could open up a Pandora's box. Chavan asked the state irrigation department, under Pawar, to publish a white paper explaining what has been done with the Rs 70,000 crore spent on irrigation projects over the past decade. For several years, the money - thousands of crores of rupees - being spent on mega-irrigation projects a talking point in the corridors of power. Till the early 1990s, the state government had a system of building dams through funds allocated in the annual budget.

A new trend started during the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, which came to power in 1995. They wanted to show that they were developing the state rapidly, but they didn't have money. So they set up independent corporations for irrigation projects in the Krishna valley and other regions, which borrowed funds from the financial market at high rates, because budget amounts were inadequate for the ambitious projects. The end product: Only 1% additional irrigation potential was created, but the mega-projects (just the Krishna valley irrigation project cost  was Rs 12,000 crore) gave birth to a new set of irrigation contractors. Most of these projects have remained incomplete but the contractors have become richer.

These pampered contractors continued to get VIP treatment even though the saffron regime was replaced by the Congress-NCP combine. One of them became so big that he now wields tremendous clout in all political parties. He has even diversified into real estate (where else?) and the hospitality sector, and has several irrigation projects in other states.  The obsession with major irrigation projects was such that successive governments in the past two decades chose to build big dams instead of smaller ones that could be built faster and would displace fewer people. So the majority of farmers in the state still rely on the monsoon. And thanks to deficient rainfall last year, a few areas are getting drinking water only once in 20 days now. 

Well, taxpayers hope that chief minister Chavan actually forces the department to explain what has happened to the thousands of crores that were apparently spent on building dams. It should not end up as a game of one-upmanship.  Nor should it become something like the housing regulatory authority, in which too much noise is made but nothing happens on the ground.

Acting pricey?
State tourism officials are annoyed with the stars of Maharashtra. All they wanted was a brand ambassador to promote Maharashtra as a tourist destination. They got in touch with Sachin Tendulkar assuming that the Little Master would help them attract tourists from India and abroad. May be getting his time for the shoot was a problem, or may be Tendulkar's advisor didn't think MTDC was in the same league as Visa or Adidas. The deal did not work out. Tourism officials gave up the thought of getting Sachin as a brand ambassador and zeroed in on former dhak dhak girl Madhuri Dixit, who has now moved back to Mumbai. However, it seems the deal isn't working out with her either. The problem is, the tourism department has a limited budget, which prevents it from working out a proper deal with these world-famous sports and film professionals. Tourism minister Chhagan Bhujbal, it seems, is fuming that the stars do not show flexibility to promote their own state.


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