The main allegation in the alleged irrigation scam, touted by the Opposition to have cost the state exchequer Rs. 70,000 crore, was that costs were being hiked manifold, often by changing the entire scope of the project, such as increasing height of the dam, increasing length of canal ways etc., after the tender had been handed over to a favoured contractor.
Activists had alleged this pointed to a nexus between officials, contractors and politicians.
The water resources department has now made it mandatory for irrigation projects that undergo change in scope after initial administrative sanction, leading to an increase of 1% or more in the live water storage of the dam, or 10% increase or more in the area which the dam will benefit, to first get “techno-economic scrutiny” done from the state-level technical advisory committee comprising bureaucrats.
Such projects will now also have to get a clearance from the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), after which they will be presented before the state government for an approval.
“Projects were not being forwarded to MWRRA for clearance, though it is a statutory body. The chief minister has pushed for these guidelines in the light of the scam,” said a senior official.
The department in its order of June 10 has also mandated that irrigation projects where less than 10% of the approved amount has been spent five years after the approval, should get a revised nod by following the new protocol.
The order states the new guidelines are a consequence of directives issued by the governor in March last year. It also states that new dams and projects should not been taken up without acquiring land required and without undertaking a detailed techno-feasibility survey, minimising the room for arbitrary cost escalations.
Since the scam allegation surfaced last year, the state has initiated action against 45 engineers for bypassing norms while clearing projects based on recommendations made by two probe committees.