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State squeezed dry, but not by the drought

As if the Adarsh scam, the CAG reports indicting senior ministers and an inquiry into a city Congress leader's disproportionate assets had not painted a bad enough picture of Mumbai and Maharashtra being completely squeezed dry by its political class, there comes along the drought to make the picture that much bleaker.

india Updated: May 13, 2012 02:30 IST
Vaibhav Purandare

As if the Adarsh scam, the CAG reports indicting senior ministers and an inquiry into a city Congress leader's disproportionate assets had not painted a bad enough picture of Mumbai and Maharashtra being completely squeezed dry by its political class, there comes along the drought to make the picture that much bleaker.

A total of 209 tehsils in 15 districts (out of more than 350 tehsils in 35 districts across the state) are in bad shape: they have no water and no fodder for cattle; the fields, where grapes, mangoes, oranges, lemons and pomegranates are grown, have gone dry; the winter crops have been ruined; and 42 villages in a single taluka, Jat in Sangli district, have threatened a merger with Karnataka if the state does not tackle this man-made drought. The state has sent in water tankers, opened fodder camps and promised other interim relief measures, but the people of the state have lost patience because this drought-like situation arises every year, regardless of how much it has rained.

Why? Because very little of the state's land is under irrigation. Between 2001 and 2010, the state apparently spent close to Rs 70,000 crore on irrigation projects. Before work on these projects began, 17.8% of the state's land was under irrigation. Today, 17.9% of total land is under irrigation. In contrast, the national average is 45%, and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka have an irrigation capacity of 48%, 46% and 32% respectively. So a 0.1% growth in irrigation is all that we have to show for the colossal expenditure of Rs 70,000 crore. Just where has this money gone?

Earlier this month, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan asked for a white paper to find this out. His statement so upset the Congress's coalition partner, the National Congress Party (NCP), which has held the water resources department since 1999, that Sharad Pawar woke up to the decline of Mumbai all of a sudden. He spoke of how the city has been ignored by the state government, and how it is on the verge of collapse. Behind these words was not so much a concern for Mumbai as a message to the Congress and the chief minster, who have long controlled the urban development department and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

The allies carried their fight all the way to New Delhi, using the drought as a weapon in their game. The state delegation, which was to include senior NCP ministers, was to meet the PM for drought aid on Tuesday, but on Monday evening itself, the CM met the PM separately and was the first to request aid. When the Centre gave the state nothing, instead appointing a three-member committee, including Pawar, to look into the demand, Pawar said he'd make sure the state got aid quickly.

In the midst of all this, the PM spoke harsh but necessary words. During the meeting with the Maharashtra delegation, he criticised the state for not using irrigation funds, including those sent by the Centre, and even warned of setting up an irrigation commission to inquire into the matter. He reportedly cited the example of the Gosi Khurd dam in Vidarbha, the plan for which was made in 1985. The dam was to cost less than Rs 400 crore; still incomplete, its cost has risen to Rs 16,000 crore.

So an inquiry commission is necessary. Or is it? The Marathi paper, Loksatta, on Thursday, wrote an editorial in which it provided a clear indication of where much of the Rs 70,000 crore might have gone. I reproduce those lines here because they reflect much of what the vast majority of the state's population thinks of its rulers and of its political class: "The answer to where the money has gone can be found in the 11 rings around the 10 fingers of the politicians, in the gold chains around their necks and in the cars that they have." And real estate.