A four-member panel of engineers of the water resources department set up in February to probe projects related to the multi-crore irrigation scam submitted its report to the state government on August 9, confirming yet again the massive scale of irregularities in granting sanctions and planning of such projects.
This is the fifth probe into the multi-crore irrigation scam over the past decade.
The panel, led by RV Panse, chief engineer with hydro power projects and quality control cell, Pune, was set up based on the interim directions issued by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court while hearing a public interest litigation filed by Pradeep Purandare, retired associate professor from the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI).
The PIL had sought a probe into the 189 projects cleared between 2007 and 2013, in the absence of a mandated integrated state water plan.
The report has pointed to several irregularities in granting approvals to a majority of the 122 projects it scrutinised, with several being tendered without technical or environment clearance. The report also confirmed massive fudging in two projects – Kikwi in Nasik and Kanchanpur in Akola -- both cleared just before the 2009 Assembly polls – where tenders were issued even before getting administrative approvals from the government.
Panse told HT the probe was hampered as it took substantial time for the government to hand over the relevant documents for scrutiny.
“Of the 189 projects we were supposed to look into, we got information on around 122-123, which we have studied. There have been lapses in getting statutory clearances and in many cases, technical approvals were sought after the project was cleared. The same is the story for environmental go-ahead. However, we could not investigate tender processes as there was too little time,” said Panse.
The chief engineer said the panel had asked the government to review the nod to 48 projects, work on which was not started, and of which many were no longer feasible given the cost hike and time overruns. “In the name of backlog, the government should not continue with unfeasible projects where there is no real benefit,” he said.
A majority of the projects were considered for the backward Vidarbha, which has a considerable irrigation backlog.
The report has recommended the state must bring all projects that skipped environment clearance – even though the changed green laws now don’t require environment clearance – to the Centre’s notice, so a stand could be taken on the earlier violation.
The committee had been tasked to probe whether these projects got sanctions in line with the existing hydrological, environment, economic norms and reasons for clearing projects were in violation of the norms.