Whilst in Opposition, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had objected to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government’s move of omitting from the annual economic survey report details on the percentage of actual irrigation potential realised in the state. But for the third consecutive year, his government has replicated the move in a bid to skirt the controversy that had rocked the previous government. A contention, made in Economic Survey Report (ESR) for 2011-12, that the percentage of actual irrigation potential had just risen from 17.8 per cent in 2000-01 to 17.9 per cent in 2010-11, had led to a flashpoint between the Congress and the NCP in the previous regime, which eventually saw then Deputy CM Ajit Pawar step down.
The bone of contention then had been that while the NCP-controlled water resources department had included wells, nullahs, and rivers located in a dam’s command area, while calculating the irrigation potential and the gross irrigated area, the agriculture department, then controlled by the Congress, had objected to their inclusion. The previous regime was eventually forced to bring out a white paper on irrigation, an opportunity that the Opposition leveraged to level allegations of corruption that had rocked the previous government. While Pawar would later be reinducted into the cabinet, he continues to face allegations of graft till today.
After winning office, the BJP government continues to refer only to the water resources department’s claims regarding irrigation potential, even as senior state officials have admitted that there was a need for conducting a joint survey involving the irrigation, agriculture, and revenue departments.
On the basis of a report from the chief auditor, water and irrigation, Aurangabad, the ESR 2017-18 has contended that the total irrigation potential created up to June 30, 2017 was 49.62 lakh hectare, which included an area of 14.89 lakh hectare under irrigation by wells in the command area. Of this, the ESR report had claimed that the total irrigation potential of 39.47 lakh hectare had been utilised.
Commenting on the controversy, Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar commented on Thursday that based on the recommendation of a special inquiry team (appointed by the previous government to look into the irrigation controversy), various committees and sub-committees had been formed to decide the further line of action. Mungantiwar claimed that the farm area under irrigation had doubled since the BJP government won office.