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JSA works: Maharashtra govt widens scope of inquiry

Widening the scope of the inquiry into alleged irregularities in previous Fadnavis government’s flagship water conservation project, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has ordered a probe into all 63
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 23, 2021 12:26 AM IST

Widening the scope of the inquiry into alleged irregularities in previous Fadnavis government’s flagship water conservation project, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has ordered a probe into all 63.3 million works completed under the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan (JSA) between December 2014 and March 2020. The collectors of the respective districts have been directed by the government to probe all JSA works and take action, if necessary.

The water conservation project was touted as a solution to the water shortage in rural areas. A four-member state-appointed committee, headed by retired IAS officer Bijay Kumar, submitted its report on May 5, after which the state government decided to initiate action in all 63.3 million works completed by spending 9,634 crore. The committee was mandated to investigate 1,799 works in which either Comptroller and Auditor General had passed strictures for the irregularities and lapses or the state had received complaints. “The committee, after its probe by scrutiny of documents, meeting with the officials and visiting the sites, found 931 cases fit for an open inquiry by the anti-corruption bureau, while in 396 cases, the committee has recommended a departmental inquiry. The committee has also recommended that as it could not investigate other works beyond the cases submitted to it, because of Covid-19 related constraints, the committee has chalked out a criterion for scrutiny of the remaining 63.1 million works. The district collectors have been directed to conduct the scrutiny and register the cases as per the criterion fixed,” an order issued by the soil and water conservation department has stated.

“While allocating the works, the administration did not follow the set norms of the bidding, hampering the competitiveness and transparency. The remarks on the audit of the works by third party were found to be forged to mislead the government and get the bills passed. The percentage of completion of the works in the registers were found inflated. Funds collected through CSR and public donations were deposited in private bank accounts. The audit of the funds thus collected was not done in the due process laid down by the government. The techniques for the widening and deepening of the bunds and nullah were faulty and not as per the set norms. These irregularities have led to the financial losses to the exchequer and need to be investigated under an open inquiry,” the report has stated.

The report has also stated that the administrative lapses, such as absence of nod of the gram sabha, release of funds without the nod by the tehsil and district level committee, failure to conduct the third party audit of the works, may be scrutinised in departmental inquiry as the lapses have not led to the financial losses to the exchequer. The committee has in detail jotted down the parameters that are fit for the open and departmental inquiries.

Devendra Fadnavis, leader of opposition in legislative Assembly and former chief minister, said, “The complaints are in just 950 works of the total 65.5 million works that had undertaken by our government. During my tenure as the CM, we had ordered a probe into 650 works as we believe that there should not be any irregularity in such an ambitious project. The powers related to the allotment and implementation of the project were given to the district collectors and few other departments including agriculture, water resources, rural development were involved in their execution. The funds were released by the collectors of the respective districts,” he said.

Maharashtra Congress’s general secretary and spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “We had been repeatedly saying that the JSA had failed in achieving the goals of making villages drought-free. The scheme was designed keeping the interest of the contractors close to the BJP in mind. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the scheme and said that 16000 villages in Maharashtra had become drought-free because of its effective implementation. A few days after, the government had declared many of the villages as drought affected. According to a 2018 survey, the ground water level in many of the villages in which JSA was implemented saw depletion in groundwater level.”

The four-member committee was constituted on December 1 after the state cabinet decided to probe into the allegations of irregularities in the project. The project was implemented in 22,589 villages with 6.41 lakh works were undertaken between December 2014 and March 2020. The state government spent 9,634 crore on the project and 98% of works were completed, in which Comptroller and Auditor General of India found holes after inspecting 1,128 works allotted and concluded that it failed to achieve its aim. The project has been scrapped by the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress.

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