The weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday witnessed a showdown with over half a dozen Congress ministers criticising Minister for Water Resources and NCP leader Sunil Tatkare for stalling 244 irrigation projects worth Rs 29,405 crore in the Vidarbha region. These projects together have the potential to irrigate 10.84 lakh hectares.
The projects under the Vidarbha Development Irrigation Corporation has come to standstill due to administrative delays. Due to a revision in cost of projects,a Cabinet nod to restart the projects is a must.
Water Conservation Minister Nitin Raut flayed Tatkare for slackness in irrigation works. Apart from the Congress ministers,he was also backed by a couple of NCP ministers. Tatkare was left fuming in anger even as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan kept mum for the whole 90-minute episode. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar who also holds the finance portfolio also drew flak for the delay.
Raut questioned the departments move to keep the projects in limbo due to cost escalation,which would necessitate an approval once again by the Cabinet. An irrigation project in Washim,estimated at Rs 500 crore,has now multiplied to Rs 5,000 crore. The department should look into reasons for the cost escalation, he said.
Due to indecisiveness of the department,the funds approved under the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation remain unused,Raut said. If the cost has gone up due to design alterations or price rise of materials,the department should take follow-up actions, he said.
Social Justice Minister Shivajirao Moghe backed Raut even as Industries Minister Narayan Rane raised flayed the department for the pending projects in Konkan,Marathwada and Vidarbha regions. How can the administration overlook the decision when funds have already been sanctioned? The decision-making mechanism should be streamlined, he said. Home Minister and NCP leader R R Patil too supported Raut. I agree Vidarbha projects are being ignored, he said.
An angry Tatkare soon hit back at Raut. Why does everybody want to know about the pending projects and its status report? What about the pending projects and reports on projects under the Ministry of Water Conservation? he asked.
Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil of NCP subtly pointed to the apathy of the finance minister in the delay. When I was the finance minister,I had ensured that all the big projects whose costs were revised would automatically be processed by an Expenditure Estimate Project Committee. Once a project gets Cabinet nod,it was the job of the committee to pursue it and address various hurdles like cost escalation or design alteration. It appears that there is no such mechanism now, he said.
Chavan assured the Cabinet that the government will resolve all problems. We will have to restore the working of the committee, he said.