Gadkari’s ₹55,000-crore irrigation boost for Maharashtra
Union water resources minister Nitin Gadkari on Friday announced central assistance of nearly Rs55,000 crore to complete 140 ongoing irrigation projects besides the ambitious river-linking scheme Damanganga-Pinjal and Nar-Tapi-Narmada, which will link five rivers in the state and benefit both Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The river-linking project will be the first in the country to be finalised, the minister said.
The project, part of an ambitious, but controversial plan seen as former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream for the country, will be inked this month, Gadkari said.
“Under this project, the plan is to interlink five rivers in the state to transfer water that flows into the Arabian Sea into basins with lower water surplus. It can yield us water of up to 80 thousand million cubic feet (TMC), roughly the size of 8 Vaitarna dams,’’ said Iqbal Chahal, principal secretary of the state, water resources department.
Environmentalists cautioned the project could turn into a costly pipe dream given Maharashtra’s track record with completing such works, with the costs outweighting the benefits promised.
Gadkari said if all these projects were fast-tracked and completed in the next three years, the area under irrigation in the state, currently at only 18.8% would increase to up to 40% and stem farmer suicides that had plagued Maharashtra for more than two decades.
“After, I took over the water resources portfolio, I realised Maharashtra’s irrigation capacity created so far is only better than Jharkhand. Other states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have created irrigation capacity of 32-34%, which is why MP’s agriculture growth rate is in double digits. In the next two years, the chief minister and I plan to fast track and complete all these irrigation projects to up our capacity to 40%. This can arrest the spate of suicides that has been troubling us,’’ Gadkari said.
The minister, who was given the additional responsibility of the water resources portfolio in the recent cabinet reshuffle, spoke to the media after taking a review of the irrigation sector in Maharashtra at the CM’s official residence, Varsha at Malabar Hill.
Gadkari also promised greater transparency in the irrigation projects saying his government would continue to have zero tolerance for corruption. The BJP government in the state took over in 2014 close on the heels of the massive irrigation scam in Maharashtra. While chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a probe into the alleged Rs70,000-crore scam, the progress of the investigation by the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) in the tainted Vidarbha and Konkan projects has been slow.
“I have asked the state government to look at using new technology and ensure full transparency in awarding of contracts by removing unnecessary layers of authority. A system should be adopted so as to enable direct payments to the contractor online within 24 hours to remove room for negotiations and bargain,” Gadkari said.
State government officials, who crunched the numbers, told HT that central assistance of around Rs38,886 crore will be given to the state via three major components (this does not include assistance for Gujarat’s share of works and cost escalation for the river linking project).
This includes completing 114 ongoing projects that are in the last mile of completion largely in the drought-prone talukas and the districts worse affected by agrarian distress in Vidarbha and Marathwada. The final clearance from the Centre’s finance ministry for getting Rs11,000 crore include a long-term loan from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), which is still pending even though Gadkari gave his clearance on Friday. The assistance also includes Rs17,000 crore yet to come from the Centre for 22 mega projects like Gosikhurd in Vidarbha cleared under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY).
The state has already completed four of the 26 projects cleared under PMKSY in 2015 and received Rs 36000 crore in assistance and loans.
The third component includes Rs15,000 crore (taking into account cost escalation) for the Damanganga-Pinjal and Nar-Tapi-Narmada project.
The initial agreement signed in 2010 for this river-linking project will be scrapped and a new agreement will be finalised in its place, most likely on September 12, said officials.
The project is divided into five segments including Nar-Par-Girna, Par-Godavari, Damanganga-Pinjal, Damanganga-Godavari, Damanganga-Vaitarna and it is estimated to get completed in five to seven years. Its cost is worked out as Rs10,886 crore for the Maharashtra portion and Rs10,211 crore for the Gujarat portion.
The documents prepared by the department show that the Damanganga-Pinjal segment can bring 895 Million Cubic Meters of water to Mumbai via tunnels and can fulfil the city’s water requirement until 2070.
The state government was so far not keen on signing the agreement, specifically the Nar-Par-Girna as the project had envisaged giving waters from its western rivers to Gujarat. The changed agreement, officials said would divert 434 MCM water going into the sea to Gujarat and getting as much water back from the Ukai dam in Gujarat.
‘’The cost benefit ratio for transfer of waters from one river basin to another over large distances through series of dams, channels does not work. Besides the ecological and displacement costs, one needs to factor in climate change which is intrinsically changing our river basins,’’ said Pradeep Purandare, a state water expert and retired associate professor with water and land management institute at Aurangabad.