'Forget populist measures and priortise irrigation to avert financial crisis.'
The Planning Commission on Wednesday reprimanded the state government on its laid back attitude to completing thousands of pending irrigation projects in the state worth over Rs 33,000 crore.
The state delegation led by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was unanimously asked by the Planning Commission to allocate at least 25 per cent (Rs 5,000 crore) of its total development outlay of Rs 20,200 crore for irrigation.
As of now the state has allocated 20 per cent – Rs 3,600 crore – of its development for this straggling sector. It is unlikely to up this spending, since there is little consensus on the subject among various departments and the coalition partners.
"The state cannot afford to ignore irrigation with 60 per cent of its population falling back on a failing agrarian economy. They are still resorting to populist measures when it comes to irrigation. This will spiral out of control," said an irked Planning Commission official on condition of anonymity.
The populist measures that the official refers to – building of dams, canals as political decisions – nearly dried up state funds leaving many dams, canals incomplete. The state still has outstanding guarantees to the tune of Rs 19,000 crore on many of such half-standing projects.
Despite political posturing to raise Rs 16,000 crore to wipe out irrigation backlog just prior to the elections last year by both Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy RR Patil, little has happened on ground.
"We unanimously requested the government to increase allocation to irrigation and complete irrigation projects," admitted Planning Commission member Dr BL Mungekar.
Mungekar pointed out the reasons for the same as:
1. Maharashtra's irrigation potential at 60 per cent is very low compared to the national average.
2. The cost of the projects is likely to escalate unless they are completed soon, burdening the state with the largest debt at Rs 1.25 lakh crore.
The Planning Commission also firmly ruled out assistance for the state's irrigation projects, asking it to find its own resources.
"The Commission would prefer to give assistance to backward states. We hope that states like Maharashtra can find its own resources," added Mungekar.
Officials, however, ridiculed state's plans to raise money, pointing to state's indebtness.
Senior state bureaucrats admit that there is "no political will" to undo the wrong and prioritise at least those irrigation projects that are 75 per cent complete.