The huge cost overruns in irrigation projects, ranging anywhere from 40% to 2,000%, could finally come under the scanner of the state government, with the Opposition and anti-graft activists sniffing a scam in the way contracts are being handed out.
Reacting to the outcry, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said he would look into the matter. "I have asked for information on some of the projects discussed in the assembly… If required, we will call for a probe in the matter,'' he said.
At least two projects, Balganga and Kondhane, both in Raigad district, are in the eye of the storm. Both have been newly commissioned by the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), and have been handed to the same contractor, i.e. FA Enterprises. The costs of these two projects were hiked within two years and one month respectively. BJP legislator Devendra Fadnavis, who had raised the issue in the assembly, claimed that the cost escalation for Balganga project had been to the tune of 150%, while for the Kondhane project, it was 500%. "Was there no other contractor in the region? FA Enterprises has another 13 projects in Thane and Raigad. Approvals for the Kondhane project came in a day. The cost was increased by 500% and its height was doubled in one month," Fadnavis said.
Congress legislator Vijay Wadetiwar had demanded a CBI probe into Vidarbha's biggest project, Gosikhurd, which has been pending for the last 27 years. The cost of this project has shot by a whopping 1,989%.
If information given by the KIDC in a RTI query is any indication, cost escalation seems to be the norm. Consider this: in the last one year, the cost of creating irrigation over one hectare by KIDC has doubled from Rs6 lakh per hectare to Rs12 lakh per hectare. On the whole, there has been a 167% hike in the 90 projects commissioned since 1998.
"The overall tender evaluation summary shows the shocking haste with which the project was cleared," said Anjali Damania, an activist with India Against Corruption, who got the information regarding the Kondhane project under the RTI Act. "The contractor for Kondhane was selected even though the firm scored poorest among the three [bidders] on equipment capacity and financials. The contractor decreased his bid further from 9.98% to 9.48% on the same day and further down to 4.98% the very next day.''
Overall, because of cost escalations, the state government requires Rs75,000 crore to complete ongoing projects.