Firms led by kin and close aides of senior Congress and NCP politicians are prime beneficiaries of the state government’s decision to allocate water from 23 dam projects for industrial purposes.
On Thursday, the Indian Express had reported the Cabinet’s move to divert 186 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from these 23 reservoirs to 34 industries. The government’s own estimates had pegged the reduction in state’s irrigation potential by over 16,166 hectares.
A majority of the beneficiary industries were from western Maharashtra and Raigad, where the NCP enjoys considerable clout.
The Cabinet cleared two proposals for water allocation to Pune-based Baramati Agro, whose chairman and managing director is NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew Rajendra Pawar.
Another proposal is for water allocation for Satara-based Govind Milk and Milk Products. Sanjeevraje Naik Nimbalkar, cousin of NCP leader and Maharashtra’s former water resources minister Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, is the firm’s chairman.
Dam water was also reserved for Sangli’s Cane Agro Energy Ltd, which is led by former NCP MLA Prithviraj Deshmukh. Ahmednagar-based Prabhat Distillery, reportedly controlled by close aides of the family of Agriculture Minister Dr Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (Congress), and Vitthal Distillery, led by former NCP MLA Baban Shinderao’s family, are also among the beneficiaries.
The NCP-controlled Water Resources Department had brought 15 proposals for diversion of dam waters to sugar mills. CM Prithviraj Chavan, however, denied permission on the grounds that sugar mills were guilty of water misutilisation and pollution. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar too backed his view. The large-scale redirection of water to industries was carried out for the first time since April last year.
The Chavan government earlier was shy of approving these proposals in the light of prevailing drought conditions in some parts of the state and allegations of illegal diversion of water.
In 2011, a Pune-based NGO Prayas had alleged that the high-powered committee illegally diverted 1983.4 cubic metres of water from 41 dams to industry and domestic use between 2003 and 2011, affecting 3.23 lakh hectares.
The panel, headed by the water resources minister, originally enjoyed powers to approve proposals for reservation of dam water for non-irrigation purposes in cases where the water sought was 25% or more of the storage capacity of the reservoir. But, on April 22, 2011, amid charges of illegal diversion of water meant for irrigation, the government modified norms with the Cabinet retaining all water allocation powers.
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