Unable to arrive at a consensus on the increase in irrigation potential in the state, the Maharashtra government appears to be on the back foot. While the Economic Survey presented on Wednesday did not mention the figure, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan indicated in the Assembly Thursday that it was 18 per cent. Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare, however, said it was “much more” than that.
“The irrigation potential is not 18 per cent. Who said it’s 18 percent? There is a substantial increase in the land covered under irrigation, which I will reveal in coming days. I will present the statistics while speaking on the issues related to my department in the Assembly,” Tatkare told The Indian Express.
However, he refused to explain why the current statistics is not mentioned in the Economic Survey. “Earlier also, I had explained that increase in irrigation potential was not 0.1 per cent but it was almost 5.5 per cent. Now, it has increased further which I will state with facts and documents during the session.”
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States like Bihar has seen an increase of 63 per cent in its irrigation potential, while Madhya Pradesh saw 34 per cent, Tamil Nadu 58 per cent, Uttar Pradesh 76 per cent and Punjab 90 per cent. Saying that the state irrigation’s potential is 18 per cent, Chavan explained that states with higher irrigation potential had a geographical advantage compared to Maharashtra.
In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, he said, there was an advantage of large river banks compared to Maharashtra which has a vast stretch of barren land. Chavan also feels the states with fertile land don’t have to grapple with recurring droughts as in case of Maharashtra.
The dispute between the Congress and the NCP related to the irrigation potential has remained unaddressed for the last two years. It led the state government to set up a committee to address the issue and arrive at the ground reality. However, the Madhav Chitale committee report submitted to the government has been kept under wraps for the last couple of months.
Chavan said: “We have received the Chitale Committee report. Since there are a lot of technical aspects it was felt an executive summary should be made before it can be placed in the House. The process is under way.” According to Chavan, the decision to skip the mention of irrigation potential in the Economic Survey was to avoid confusion as the Chitale committee was entrusted with the task of tackling the issue.
Deputy CM Ajit Pawar refused to comment on irrigation. Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, said: “Notwithstanding the dispute related to irrigation potential percentage, we find serious constraints in making huge allocations upto Rs 30,000 crore on projects that would make a visible change in the state’s irrigation sector.”
State BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis said: “There cannot be any explanation why the government has not tabled the Chitale Committee report. It only shows Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is trying to cover up the corruption in irrigation sector.” The failure of the government to increase the irrigation potential is due to lack of planning and corruption. How does one explain Rs 42,000-crore investment in the sector, which does not commensurate with the irrigation potential growth,” he asked.