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Oppn grills minister on growing irrigation backlog in Vidarbha

The Opposition on Wednesday grilled minister for water resources Sunil Tatkare in assembly over the issue of large-scale corruption in the irrigation department in Vidarbha.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2011 23:17 IST
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Pradip Kumar Maitra

The Opposition on Wednesday grilled minister for water resources Sunil Tatkare in assembly over the issue of large-scale corruption in the irrigation department in Vidarbha.

The minister was also heckled by the Opposition for the government’s failure to remove the region’s irrigation backlog. The uproar led the speaker to adjourn the House for the day.

Participating in a discussion on irrigation and Vidarbha backlog, vocal BJP member Devendra Fadnavis said, "The backlog of Vidarbha was Rs 15,000-crore in 1994. It has risen over five times to a staggering Rs 76,000 crore now. A bankrupt state government does not have the money to remove it."

Fadnavis once raised the demand of separate Vidarbha and asserted that the region would remain backward as long as it remained in Maharashtra.

While some ruling Congress and NCP members from Vidarbha thumped benches in approval, many members from other parts of the state opposed it. Former Maharashtra minister and senior Congress leader Vijay Wadettiwar had raised this demand last Thursday citing similar reasons.

Fadnavis claimed that out of 55 lakh hectare in Vidarbha, irrigation potential could be created in 50 lakh hectare but irrigation facility reached hardly a few lakh hectares. "Nobody knows when the ambitious Goshikhurd on Wainganga river projects will be completed?" he asked and alleged that there was wanton corruption in the project as tender was hiked thrice from its original cost. He was supported by the Leader of the Opposition Eknath Khadse.

The Opposition sought a clarification from the government on it and white paper on the status of irrigation in the region. Opposition MLAs supported by some members of the ruling alliance on Wednesday forced adjournment of the Maharashtra assembly for the day over the issue of insufficient funds to deal with development backlog of Vidarbha region.

Earlier, bowing to pressure from an aggressive Opposition, Tatkare announced that all irrigation contracts in Vidarbha which had overshot the set tender estimates would be cancelled. He did not specify the projects that would be axed or the amounts involved. An official said only the new contracts in which work was yet to begin could face the action.

Tatkare reiterated the government’s claim that in financial terms the backlog was removed. He claimed in his detailed reply on the issue that Vidarbha was receiving utmost attention. Citing statistics, he said Vidarbha got preference in funds allocation over Marathwada and Khandesh. Since 2003-04, the state had allocated Rs 45,765 crore for irrigation and other projects in Vidarbha, the minister said. The government was also keen on completion of Gosikhurd project with the financial support from the Centre, he said. The project, launched in 1989 with estimated cost of Rs 384 crore, requires further funds for completion.

Earlier, Virendra Jagtap (Congress) and Fadnavis (BJP), who initiated the debate, alleged that the ruling Congress-NCP alliance had neglected Vidarbha.

Khadse alleged corruption to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore in Gosikhurd project. The opposition said the government's reply had no concrete assurances, and trooped into the well of the house shouting slogans.

Deputy Speaker Vasant Purke, who was in the chair, first adjourned the house for 30 minutes. But since no order could be restored when the house reassembled, he adjourned the proceedings for the day.

Tatkare had to face a barrage of Opposition attack after his reply to the marathon debate on irrigation backlog of Vidarbha and measures to fight drought-like conditions in some parts of western Maharashtra failed to satisfy members cutting across the parties and especially those from Vidarbha.

Dishing out figures of funds provided to Vidarbha in last ten years, Tatkare rejected the contention of Fadnavis and others that there was a deliberate neglect of projects in Vidarbha. The minister said except for the delays caused by legal disputes, land acquisition and forest laws that stopped some projects, there was nothing in the way.

However, the minister’s reply was rejected by the BJP and Sena members as well as some independents who said the minister had not addressed to even a single concern raised by the members from both sides of the house, especially, from Vidarbha who were expecting that the government would for once and all show a change of attitude and assure clearance of Vidarbha projects at faster pace. Fadnavis had claimed that that the neglect of irrigation in Vidarbha was primarily responsible for the worsening conditions of the dry-land farmer driven to suicide.

First Published: Dec 21, 2011 23:13 IST