Elections 2021

Maharashtra polls: Dams are the elephant in the room

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on May 15, 2019

Though 2,069 large dams already dot its landscape, Maharashtra is building another 285 , even though the majority of the dams have not achieved their projected irrigation potential (file photo)

With alleged beneficiaries of ₹70,000-cr scam across all parties, issue not raised in campaign

Reservoirs in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra now have just 3 per cent of their storage level. Reservoirs in the Nagpur division have 9 per cent and the State machinery is unsure of how to tackle the worsening situation. However, political discourse is on expected track — that the State needs more dams.

Though 2,069 large dams already dot its landscape, Maharashtra is building another 285, even though the majority of the dams have not achieved their projected irrigation potential. However, during the entire Lok Sabha election campaign and now, with the State facing one of the severest droughts, the irrigation scams are missing from public discourse.

Since 2012, activists and NGOs in the State have been fighting legal battles to unravel the ₹70,000-crore scams related to approval and execution of irrigation projects. The Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2011-12 mentions that despite spending over ₹70,000 crore, the irrigated area of the State increased only by 0.1 per cent. While the legal battle is on, no political party even mentioned it during the poll campaign.

Politics of slush money

Not only in Vidarbha and Marathwada, but also in the western parts of the State hundreds of irrigation projects launched by the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC) are mired in controversies. Interestingly, if some of the contractors involved in the alleged corruption have become major players in the State politics, several others have direct connections to political families.

Maharashtra has the largest number of dams in India, but has a mere 19 per cent of the net irrigated area and, yet, nobody is talking about it. Political observers say that a discourse on irrigation scam would open a Pandora’s box for the State’s politicians across party lines.

“Except drought, all issues cropped up during the Lok Sabha election campaign. If you want to discuss drought, you have to discuss irrigation scam and no party is comfortable doing it. The government and the Opposition are talking about measures to tackle the drought, but not a word on why drought is perennial or what happened to the huge amounts allocated for irrigation projects,” said Shivram Shinde, a farmer.

‘All parties guilty’

“Who will talk about whose corruption? Leaders have jumped from party to party and now every party has leaders whose name are involved in one or the other irrigation scam. One thing is common among all of them — they love big irrigation projects to nurture their political growth,” said Amrut Raut, another farmer.

The case is not unique to Maharashtra. Across India, politicians favour large irrigation projects for obvious reasons.

Money down the drain

“We have invested ₹4-lakh crore in major and medium irrigation projects since Independence. Vast storages of water not reaching the farmers. We have focussed only on expenditure of vast sums of money for construction of dams and main canal systems, and not on enduring outcomes,” observed a government-appointed committee in its report titled “A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms.”

The committee noted that the average cost overrun is a whopping 1,382 per cent in major irrigation projects and 325 per cent in medium projects.

Published on May 15, 2019

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