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What is the irrigation scam about?
It involves misappropriation of funds meant for various projects, something that became apparent in 2012 after the Economic Survey of Maharashtra showed the state’s irrigation potential had increased only 0.1 percentage points in 10 years. This was after investments totalling Rs 70,000 crore in various mega, medium and small irrigation projects across Maharashtra over the last six decades. Even before that report, it was already clear that the benefits of these investments hadn’t reached farmers, a large number of whom committed suicide in Vidarbha in 2005-06. A team of experts sent by then prime minister Manmohan Singh also forced the state government into a relook at a regional imbalance in allocation of irrigation funds.
Who first mentioned a scam specifically?
The same year as the economic survey, Vijay Pandhare, a senior engineer with Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, wrote a 15-page letter to then prime minister Manmohan Singh, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and other state officials alleging rampant corruption in the department. He alleged that almost 50 per cent of the funds were being pocketed by corrupt politicians. He also highlighted the poor quality of work on a number of irrigation projects in Vidarbha. A nongovernmental organisation, Jan Manch, raised the matter before the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. And a CAG report indicted the government of corruption and poor and incomplete work in irrigation.
Has any politician been named?
Ajit Pawar of the NCP came under attack both from opposition parties and from his government. Pawar had been water resources minister between 1999 and 2009, the longest tenure ever. The opposition alleged that he ignored violation of rules in awarding contracts, and that these lapses led to massive cost escalations, poor quality and incomplete work despite investments up to Rs 42,000 crore in 10 years. In May 2012, Pawar resigned saying he would return to the cabinet only after his name was cleared through investigation. The government published a white paper on irrigation projects along with cost escalation details and a status report. In three months, Pawar was re-inducted.
Who probed the scam?
A special investigation team set up by the state. In December 2012, Devendra Fadnavis and other BJP MLAs had demanded that such an SIT be set up under the Inquiry of Commission Act. The chief minister agreed on the SIT but it was not under that Act. The SIT, headed by water management expert Madhav Chitale, presented a 1,300-page report to the government in May 2014.
What does the panel’s report say?
The report states that members and the chairman of the governing council of state irrigation development corporations are responsible for the financial and administrative lapses. The chairman of the governing council is always the water resources minister.
How has the government taken the report?
Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare has accepted 42 of 44 recommendations. While admitting there is a need for major reforms in the irrigation sector, the government has given a clean chit to politicians. It has, however, promised a departmental inquiry against officials responsible for violation of rules that led to cost escalation and work of poor quality.
Rs 70,000 cr
Investment in irrigation in Maharashtra in six decades, including Rs 42,000 crore in last 10 years
Escalation in costs of irrigation projects statewide. The government admits the cost escalation but says it is on account of delay in land acquisition, and non-clearance on forest and environment grounds.
All that irrigation potential had managed to rise in 10 years till 2012, as per Economic Survey. Citale panel report says the method adopted for calculating is faulty, minister Sunil Tatkare says potential has actually increased by 5.40 percentage points.