Irrigation Projects: Cabinet revises policy for cost escalations

No revised administrative approval needed now for a majority of projects, water revenues ring fenced

| Mumbai | Updated: November 9, 2016 3:41:17 am
maharashtra farming, maharashtra irrigation, maharashtra irrigation project, maharashtra farming irrigation, maharashtra, india news Girish Mahajan (File Photo)

The Maharashtra cabinet has revised the policy for approvals to cost escalation for major irrigation projects. Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan said revised administration approvals (RAA) won’t be required now for projects where the variation in cost over the approved cost was below 15 per cent. The government has further ruled that increase in costs for acquisition of land and rehabilitation of the project affected, and expenditure incurred for acquisition of forest lands won’t be factored in while computing the escalated costs for irrigation projects.

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Sources said this relaxation by itself would regularise escalated project costs for a majority of the projects stuck for the want of a revised administrative approval. “As many as 200 projects are presently stalled for want of revised approvals. At least 150 out of these won’t need RAA under the revised policy,” said I S Chahal, Principal Secretary, Water Resources.

Ever since the previous Congress-NCP regime was stung due to approvals for arbitrary cost escalations in irrigation projects, the revised administrative approval issue has been a political hot potato in the state. Mahajan too admitted that authorities responsible for issuing such approvals “are wary of facing the heat for irregularities which were committed in the past”. He said this had impacted the pace of projects.

He claimed that the government had now specifically defined parameters that could be considered for ruling that the project’s scope had been modified, and required a revised approval. The project’s scope would be considered altered in cases where technical changes in the dam or canal design or water use and allocation resulted in an over 10 per cent difference in the project’s irrigation potential, or where the project’s construction cost, as previously mentioned, has increased by over 15 per cent. A revised approval will be needed for a project where the live storage potential of dams has increased by over 1 per cent.

In August this year, the government had cancelled 94 tenders of 14 scam-tainted irrigation projects worth Rs 9,196 crore, which had been allocated during the previous regime. While Mahajan said fresh tenders would soon be issued for these projects, he admitted that the new policy for cost escalations would also be applied to some other irrigation projects where the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had raised audit objections for irregular expenditure. The previous regime had allocated contracts for many of these without mandatory environment and forest clearances. Some were taken up without even acquiring the land required for the project.

Meanwhile, for projects where the cost escalation are still considered arbitrary, the government’s new policy has laid down a separate screening procedure, which include technical audits, ratification by a state-level expert panel, and project-wise reviews at the cabinet level.

While the BJP has taken action against officials and contractors in scam-tainted irrigation projects in Konkan and Vidharbha after winning office, the government has drawn flak from certain quarters over its inability to turn tables on the slow pace of irrigation projects.

On Tuesday, in another major decision aimed at revival of the irrigation sector, the government ring-fenced funds required for the maintenance of completed projects. “Of 3,600 completed irrigation projects, maintenance of over 2,000 projects has been hit due to paucity of funds. This has adversely impacted the state’s water scarcity management plan,” said Mahajan.

The cabinet Tuesday cleared a proposal permitting non-deposition of revenues realised by water reservoirs through various means to the state government’s consolidated fund. These would now be used only for irrigation purposes. The government has divested powers for irrigation management to the five statutory irrigation development corporations. These corporations will now be permitted to utilise up to 40 per cent of the revenues raised from dam projects in their respective areas for repairs, restoration, and maintenance works for completed irrigation projects. The remaining 60 per cent amount raised by each corporation would be deposited in a centralised ‘irrigation management account’, and are proposed to be utilised for special repairs and expansion of projects, dam security and safety works, strengthening and modernisation of water projects, revival of lift irrigation schemes, canal works, strengthening of water use committee, and training of personnel in irrigation management, among others.

In another decision, the cabinet also divested its powers for decisions regarding water allocation from a dam. While reserving 75 per cent water in a dam for irrigation purposes, 15 per cent for drinking purposes, and 10 per cent for industrial uses, the cabinet has now allocated powers to a cabinet sub-panel to take such decision. The previous regime had courted criticism for large-scale diversion of dam waters for non-irrigation purposes.

State protests sedition charges against Marathi youth in Belgaum

The state government has said it would be writing to the Karnataka government, protesting against the slapping of sedition charges and cases slapped against Marathi-speaking people in Belgaum.

The move comes after the Shiv Sena raised the issue during the state’s cabinet meeting Tuesday. At the meeting, Shiv Sena minister Diwakar Roate even sought adopting a resolution demanding imposition of the President’s Rule in Belgaum.

While no such resolution was moved, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis reportedly informed his cabinet colleagues that an official letter would be issued to the Karnataka government, conveying strong dissent over the action against Marathi speaking youth since November 1, 2016.

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