Want to punish the guilty, but won’t review irrigation projects: Girish Mahajan
“We want the guilty to be punished…Let them be sent to jail. But, why should projects get stalled or reviewed?” Maharashtra water resources minister Girish Mahajan told HT in an interview on Thursday. While the intention is good, the BJP government’s decision not to review the projects that were shoddily planned or built to favour contractors means more of the people’s money going down the drain.
Seven months ago, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis gave the go-ahead to an Anti-Corruption Bureau probe against two former water resources ministers, Sunil Tatkare and Ajit Pawar. But, little progress seems to have been made.
I don’t agree that there has been no progress. We have had issues because ACB is short-staffed and they are not equipped to analyse project technicalities or tender documents. We have lent them staff to help them decipher this. The investigation will take time, but in the next two months, it will yield results. Currently, the agency is probing 12 projects in Konkan, and three big projects in Vidarbha. The scale and extent of the irregularities in implementing the irrigation projects are huge. There is no easy way forward. In 2009, for instance, former ministers handed out projects without considering the budget allocation, just as freebies to contractors. We now have to clear that mess.
There are some new, serious allegations against Pawar of quid pro quo in the irrigation scam, with regards to his link with a firm that bagged the contracts. How will the government address this?
I have heard about these allegations and they do seem serious. But, as I don’t have the papers, I cannot comment on it. I do know that the chief minister got the complaint and made a statement that the allegations will be probed by the ACB. We have no reason to go soft on any one.
Irrigation projects worth nearly Rs 80,000 crore are believed to be pending in the state. How are you planning to take these forward?
We are prioritising those projects that are 75% to 80 % complete. We met the governor on Wednesday to see how we can speed-up the projects, especially in Vidarbha and Marathwada, where there is backlog. In 2015-16, we will focus on 38 projects and in 2016-2017, 41 projects. As far as possible, we will not take up any new project. These will cost us around Rs 30,000 crore. I realise this outstrips our annual budget allocation, so we are considering allowing contractors to raise money from banks, which we can back by guarantees. We had 260 projects stalled for the want of a revised administrative approval (RAA). These too will be fast tracked as per law.
What happens to those projects where there have been serious allegations with regards to planning, processes and cost hikes? Is the government not going to review them?
No. The irrigation scam has already hit the irrigation sector. No work has been done for the past four years. In Vidarbha, for instance, Rs 3,000 crore lie idle in the Irrigation Development Corporation, but no decision has been taken on cost escalation of projects. We want the inquiry to go ahead, we want the guilty to be punished… let them be sent to jail. But, why should projects get stalled or reviewed?
Your government has cleared the Krishna-Marathwada project worth Rs 5,000 crore, without clarity on how much water is available for it. This project includes a component Ashti LIS, which did not even have an administrative approval. Why are such projects not being reviewed?
I realise there are issues with the project, as the Krishna Water Tribunal has not yet given it a clearance. There is an issue of getting 16 TMC of water. I know there have been several irregularities by the last government in the planning of the project. Work was started before environment clearances. But, look at the state of Marathwada. That region desperately needs water. We will try and sort out the difficulties and go ahead.
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