After the severe drought that prevailed for more than eight months starting November last year, farmers in western Maharashtra, Konkan and Vidarbha witnessed downpour over the past two months.(AP)
After the severe drought that prevailed for more than eight months starting November last year, farmers in western Maharashtra, Konkan and Vidarbha witnessed downpour over the past two months.(AP)

Maharashtra polls: How will irrigation woes affect drought-hit state?

Six years down the line, the investigation into the irregularities continues to move at a slow pace, after the anti-corruption bureau filed cases against contractors and officials, and a few cases in the high court.
By Surendra P Gangan | Mumbai, Mumbai
UPDATED ON SEP 28, 2019 04:40 AM IST

In October 2013, then Maharashtra Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Devendra Fadnavis and leader of opposition in legislative Council Vinod Tawde submitted a cart-load of proofs of more than 14,000 pages before the Madhav Chitale committee probing the alleged multi-crore irrigation scam. Tawde had alleged that irrigation department officials, and Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, ministers of the water resources department for 15 years, were involved in the scam.

Six years down the line, the investigation into the irregularities continues to move at a slow pace, after the anti-corruption bureau filed cases against contractors and officials, and a few cases in the high court. While the state informed the high court about the involvement of Ajit Pawar last year, the ACB probe hasn’t made much progress.

The department, in its document on the five-year performance of the water resources department, said that 57 former officers have been booked for irregularities in 27 cases. It also scrapped 94 contracts that had ambiguity and re-tendered the projects. Vijay Pandhare, whistleblower in the irrigation scam, said, “Chitale committee, in its annexure 7 of part 2 of the report, has recommended a high-power committee investigate the serious lapses. Nothing has been done so far. The government has been using the issue for political gain, but no firm action has been taken. Officers are being held guilty in the scam, but their political bosses are spared. Nothing has changed. This government completed some small and medium incomplete projects, but some major projects need to be scrapped. In fact, the incumbent government too is following in the footsteps of the previous government in terms of study and design.”

A retired officer of the department said the Fadnavis government was announcing irrigation schemes that were not feasible. “It has announced implementation of the Krishna-Marathwada irrigation project, which was stuck for years for want of the tribunal’s approval. Fadnavis recently announced his decision to lift water from Koyana for parched Marathwada, besides a water grid for the region. However, feasibility of the project has not been checked, neither has a detailed project report been prepared,” he said.

The Congress-NCP rule in 2014 handed over 313 incomplete projects to the Fadnavis government. The BJP-led government claimed it has completed 160 projects, spending 41,471 crore in five years, against the expenditure of 34,774 crore during 2009-14. The Fadnavis government claims 4.84 lakh hectares more land has been brought under irrigation in the past five years, taking it to 40.58 lakh hectares. The cash-strapped government has a huge challenge of raising funds to complete incomplete projects. Of the requirement of 84,000 crore, it could get about 7,800 crore from the Centre, while 54,000 crore are being raised through loans. Insiders are doubtful if it is feasible.

Water resources minister Girish Mahajan said the irrigation scam probe was in the right direction and the court has been monitoring it on a regular basis. “The ACB has been probing the cases. Charge sheets have been filed and action will be taken against politicians and officers found guilty at an appropriate time. Our government has completed a huge number of projects in a transparent manner, saving at least 1,000 crore by bringing competition in the tendering process. Bids get response at 10-20% below the quoted amount, unlike during the previous tenure,” he said. “We will get huge support from voters.”

Political analyst Hemant Desai said, “The BJP-led state government successfully created a rosy picture about pushing through the irrigation projects and getting Central support. It remains to be seen if the result is visible on ground. Note ban and launch of GST have made the going difficult for farmers. Still, the government has spent a lot on agriculture sector and it may help them in the elections.”

After the severe drought that prevailed for more than eight months starting November last year, farmers in western Maharashtra, Konkan and Vidarbha witnessed downpour over the past two months. In the two extremes, farmers have suffered major crop loss and are blaming the government policies. “There is no change in policies in this government too. The Modi government announced that farmers’ income would be doubled in the next five years, but there are no measures to ensure it. The rates of produce like that of urad and moong are much below the MSP, while the input cost has been continuously rising,” said Vijay Jawandhia, a farm expert from Vidarbha.

The state government disbursed a farm loan waiver of 18,761 crore to 44.04 lakh farmers, but the list still has about 26 lakh farmers unaccounted for want of verification of details. “Around 27 months after it was declared, we have still not completed the verification of the remaining applicants. The government is shying away from declaring the rest of the applicants ineligible. Similarly, of the 1.20 crore farmers expected to be beneficiaries of the PM Sanman Nidhi, with a cash benefit of 6000 an annum, only 70.59 lakh have been registered. Seven months after its announcement, 60.5 lakh farmers have received the benefits. This reflects badly on governance,” said an official from the agriculture department.

The officer also pointed out that the crop insurance scheme had a premium amount of 3,600 crore, while the payout after the drought was 3,300 crore. “Insurance companies earn out of crop insurance owing to the design of the scheme that leaves room for fudging figures related to threshold yield, indemnity etc,” he said.

Raghunath Golde, a 51-year-old farmer from Revgaon in Jalna district, is happy with the government’s attempt of linking agricultural schemes with Aadhaar. “Corruption has not been weeded out fully, but it is under control and will help genuine farmers get their dues. We never used to get crop insurance money and faced problems in getting seeds and fertilizers. These problems have been addressed, although I am not sure if our income will double,” he said.

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