The Maharashtra government has restored powers of Finance Minister Ajit Pawar-led expenditure priority committee (EPC) to sanction proposals for cost escalation in irrigation projects.
Following a public outrage over alleged rampant corruption and arbitrary increase in cost of irrigation projects, the Prithviraj Chavan-led cabinet had in August 2012 decided to wrest powers to sanction approvals to cost escalation in projects where the original cost was above Rs 50 crore.
However, almost no project was put up before the Cabinet for approval ever since. The Indian Express had earlier carried a report where water resource department (ERD) officials had complained that lack of decision-making in this regard had stalled these projects and led to further cost escalation.
At the Cabinet meeting on January 9, the Maharashtra cabinet decided it did not want to play a part in these approvals and restored EPC’s powers.
Requesting anonymity, a senior official, however, said that “the cabinet’s flip-flop and indecisiveness in deciding such projects had only burdened the state exchequer further while achieving no objective”.
Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who also heads the finance portfolio, had faced allegations of corruption in arbitrary increase of cost of projects following which the Cabinet decided in August 2012 to wrest powers to sanction cost escalation projects from the EPC.
Pawar was also forced to resign in September that year before being re-inducted in December 2012. The main argument made then was the bureaucrats on the panel had become hesitant in approving projects with high cost-escalation, a view contested by the bureaucrats concerned.
The committee comprises chief secretary, the finance secretary and water resources secretaries as members.
Since August 2012, about 24 proposals were submitted by the WRD, after approvals from various departments, to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for Cabinet approval. None of these made it to the Cabinet. Another 100-odd proposals were in the pipeline with their scrutiny going on at various levels.
Requesting anonymity, a senior NCP minister blamed the CM for “avoidable delays”.
The CMO, however, clarified that most proposals had come to it only few days ago. Following the Cabinet decision, the CMO has returned the proposals pending before it to the WRD.
WRD minister Sunil Tatkare said, “These would soon be placed before the EPC.”
Besides irrigation projects, the EPC will also have powers to sanction cost escalation in public works department proposals.
A senior WRD official said proposals where the cost-benefit ratio norms are not met are referred to the EPC.