The emerging irregularities in approvals given to irrigation projects and connivance of government officials with developers in flouting rules to drive up costs could cast a long shadow on the state water resources department.
In glaring disregard for norms, the department first hiked the cost of Kalu dam in Thane district by 44% citing forest clearance, and then allowed construction to start without it. Minutes of a pre-tender conference for Kalu project held on August 12, 2009 (a copy which is with HT) show that only two firms — FA Construction and FA Enterprises, which are sister concerns represented by Baviskar and Nissar Khatri — were present to discuss the project.
FA Enterprises said: “It will require minimum 3 to 4 years for forest clearance, and work can be started thereafter. So, it is necessary to consider these aspects… also, financial aspects of the project should be reconsidered.’’ FA Construction argued on the same point.
The department noted: “The request of the contractor is accepted and the time required for the forest clearance is considered to be three years.”
The project cost was then escalated taking into consideration the rise in cost of material in the three years. However, instead of waiting for the clearance and starting work probably in 2013, construction began in October 2010 without any approvals.
“It is the responsibility of the state government to make a representation to the Centre and get the clearance, but it is passed on to the contractor. On paper, the authorities say work will begin only after the clearance, but it always starts before even asking the forest advisory committee for the go-ahead,’’ said Indavi Tulpule of Shramik Mukti Sanghtana, an organisation that had filed a PIL demanding work on Kalu dam be shelved.
She pointed out that in the case of Kalu, FA Enterprises was selected after showing that it qualified for the 50 marks kept aside for forest clearance and acquisition of forest land, but the firm had no past experience in this regard.
“The contractor showed Balganga dam project as prior experience. But, where is the forest clearance for this project?” Tulpule asked. FA Enterprises got 50/50 marks in these criteria pointing out that it had got clearance for 265 hectares of forest land for Balganga. However, the forest clearance had not come through till August.
Tulpule said that while no environment scrutiny is mandated for drinking water projects, dams being built in eco-sensitive zones and proposed forest areas like in the case of Kalu required a detailed environment assessment, which the state government had ignored for most of the projects so far. FA Construction did not respond to the mails send by HT. Water resources minister Sunil Tatkare said he would seek information, and would be able to comment only after going through the details.