Legislators across party lines from North and Western Maharashtra are concerned that key irrigation projects in their regions will remain incomplete in the next three years because of Governor S. M. Krishna’s directives on irrigation expenditure.
A delegation of legislators will meet Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on Tuesday to seek a solution to the slashed budgetary allocation this year – which can be seen as a corrective action for the past mismanagement of funds.
Krishna, in his directives tabled in the state legislature in March, had snubbed the state government, asking it to ensure equitable distribution of funds.
The directives stated that the state had diverted funds for irrigation amounting to Rs 1,617 crore over the last two years from Vidarbha and Marthwada and granted it to the rest of the state.
This diversion will now be compensated to the backward regions by slashing Rs 538 crore annually from the funds of rest of Maharashtra for the next three years.
However, the loss of Rs 538 crore annually from Western Maharashtra – the stronghold of the Nationalist Congress Party – Konkan and North Maharashtra, has upset legislators from the regions, who claim it will result in shutting down of irrigation corporations of these regions.
It could also be a politically sensitive issue in the 2009 assembly elections, when elected representatives may have to answer uncomfortable questions about long-pending irrigation projects to the voters. “We are not saying don’t give more funds to Vidarbha. In fact, the region’s entire backlog should be removed by the government, but not at the cost of other regions,’’ said Eknath Khadse, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader from North Maharashtra.
North Maharashtra has been allotted only Rs 125 crore for irrigation this year.
Western Maharashtra, with its all-powerful sugar satraps from NCP, has been allotted Rs 377 crore. “There is nothing wrong in the Governor’s directives but these funds will hamper irrigation projects in the remaining parts of the state,’’ said Water Resources Minister Ramraje Naik-Nimbalkar of the NCP.
Poor management of the irrigation sector has resulted in 1,246 pending projects that will cost the state government Rs 41,000 crore. “76 cent of the total irrigation backlog is from the six worse affected districts of Vidarbha, currently witnessing farmers suicide. The directives aims at removing this backlog,’’ said an official from the Governor’s office on condition of anonymity.