Cash-strapped and drought-hit, Maharashtra has now approached the Centre for money to complete its irrigation projects.
The state needs Rs89,900 crore more to complete 380 projects — small, medium and big — whose cost is today estimated at Rs1,56,216 crore.
It has sought 90% financial assistance for 219 projects that will cost Rs28,500 crore to complete. These fall in 179 drought-prone talukas that often see suicides by farmers. The state has also sought soft loans or grants from the Centre for 22 of its large irrigation projects, aimed to be completed by 2019, when the government completes its five-year term.
Union water resources minister Uma Bharti will chair a meeting to discuss the issue in Mumbai on Tuesday that will be attended by Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and state irrigation minister Girish Mahajan. This follows a letter Fadnavis wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharati two months ago.
Gadkari, who is the seniormost minister from Maharashtra in the Union Cabinet, said, “Our thrust would be on maximum central funds to the irrigation projects as their completion means a lot for the drought hit state.”
The state wants the maximum share under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), under which the Central government has earmarked Rs80,000 crore to be released in the next four years for 89 large irrigation projects across the country; 26 of them are in Maharashtra.
In its 2016-17 budget, the state, which is facing a cash crunch, set apart Rs7850 crore for the irrigation projects, which officers in the water resources department say is less than 10% of what is needed. Besides, the government state gets very little choice to select the projects as a major chunk goes towards the matching grants for the projects undertaken under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana
Once all 380 projects are completed, some 43,05,451 hectares can be irrigated. Of the projects, 246 have got all clearances including land acquisition, rehabilitation and environment. The state has set a target of completing them in next four years -- 41 in 2016-17, 68 each in the two years after that and 69 in 2019-
An official in the water resources department said that generally, the Centre provides 60% of the funding for projects under the Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP) and that the state had identified 132 projects under the DPAP and another 87 in farmer suicides hit districts. The accumulated cost of these projects was Rs 28,500 crore, of which 10% could be borne by the state government, the official said.
The backlog of irrigation projects is a fallout of the scam unearthed four years ago involving irregularities running into thousands of crores. The 2012 Economic Survey of Maharashtra had stated that the state’s irrigation potential increased by only 0.1% even after spending Rs70,000 crore in a decade between 1999 and 2009. Twoo former water resources ministers Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare are under the scanner in connection with the irrigation scam.
“It would be good news if we get the funds demanded by the state, but the identification of the projects should be done judiciously. The projects that have been pointed at as ‘unwarranted and full of irregularities’ by the Special Task Force that probed the irrigation scam should be excluded from the list,” said Pradeep Purandare, retired associate professor, Water and Land Management Institute expert and a whistleblower in irrigation scam.