In Maharashtra, water supply clearly does not seem to be one of the prerequisites for building irrigation projects.
In a fresh revelation, which once again highlights how water irrigation projects are planned and approved for handing out contracts rather than provide water, it has come to light that at least 31 small water conservation projects were planned solely on the basis of water availability from the Ashti Lift irrigation project in the drought-prone Marathwada district, when the latter itself has no assured water supply or a water availability certificate.
As HT had reported last week, the Centre has now held back environment clearance to the Ashti Lift Irrigation project, putting its future in doubt.
Documents available with HT show at least eight out of these 31 small projects with storage capacity up to 250 hectares were approved on the basis of the Krishna waters, which would reach Ashti taluka in Beed district through the lift irrigation project. These include four storage tanks and four KT weirs (barriers on the river with outlets), which were approved by the Aurangabad irrigation division in December 2009, just three months after the Ashti Lift Irrigation scheme was approved.
These projects with an average cost of Rs 2 crore each (based on estimates) were to be taken up through the funds available from the water conservation department. These projects are completely dependent on the Ashti Lift irrigation projects and the Kuntephal storage tank, which would in turn lift 5.68TMC (thousand million cubic feet) water from Ujani dam, which is 100km away.
While, on paper, it is supposed to lift 5.68TMC water through five stages from Ujani dam, the dam itself has no surplus water.
The internal communication between the Osmanabad irrigation division and the chief engineer of minor projects, Aurangabad, accessed under the Right to Information Act, states: “There is no need for a separate water availability certificates for these projects as their requirement will be met through the ongoing Krishna Marathawada irrigation project.”
Sources in the water resources department told HT that these projects were given a push using drought as an excuse without any real water assessment or planning. Besides these eight projects, another five minor irrigation projects have also been cleared in Ashti, all dependent on the 5.68 TMC water.
“Nearly 1,000 hectares of land across five villages will be acquired for the Ashti Lift irrigation scheme. Many of the farmers were forced to give up land through private acquisition under political pressure. In the name of drought, politics is being played out and only contractors have benefitted,” said Machindra Thorve, a farmer from Ashti, who has filed a petition against the project.
Also, between the Ashti lift irrigation scheme and the Ujani dam, there are at least 13 other lift irrigation schemes, including two in Osmanabad, which like Ashti are part of the grand Krishna Marathwada irrigation project. The Krishna Marathwada project has been termed as flawed by well-known water expert Madhav Chitale in the recent special investigation report on irrigation.
Work on the Ashti project had begun without the mandatory green nod and it also did not have a valid administrative approval. It is estimated to be worth Rs 1,046 crore and includes the Kuntephal storage tank, for which a work order has been awarded to the Raj Group, which has links with former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. One of the directors of Raj Group, Jagdish Kadam, is Pawar’s maternal cousin and has business relations with the NCP leader.