The Maharashtra government on Tuesday opted out of two joint river-linking projects with Gujarat citing delay in implementation.
The Centre had earlier decided to fund up to 90 per cent of the capital cost of the two interlinking projects — Par-Tapi-Narmada and Damanganga-Pinjal — as part of its ambitious scheme of linking over 30 major rivers in the country.
But on Tuesday, the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra Cabinet approved a proposal to exit the proposed joint arrangement. Instead, it has decided to develop the river-linking projects on its own.
Iqbal Singh Chahal, Maharashtra Principal Secretary (Water Resources), said, “The government has been trying hard to resolve the issues, which were holding back the implementation of the project for the last two-and-a-half years. Even the Centre had been pushing for the signing of the MoU draft proposed by the state government for the project. But since the stalemate continues, the chief minister felt it was prudent to avoid further delays and cost escalations. We have decided to go ahead with the project’s implementation on our own.”
According to the state’s new plan, the water from these basins would be taken to the Godavari basin through lift irrigation. With the project expected to benefit the drought-hit Marathwada region the most, the government’s decision is also being perceived as one taken keeping the upcoming state polls in mind.
Once the project is commissioned, Marathwada is expected to get an additional 73 thousand million cubic (TMC) litres of water. The project is also expected to benefit Mumbai, augmenting the city’s water supply by an additional 21 TMC.
According to sources, a dispute over water sharing was the prime reason for the stalling of the joint interlinking project. As part of the original project, it was proposed that Maharashtra allocate 15 TMC water from a dam in Nashik to Gujarat. In lieu of which, the latter was expected to share the same 15 TMC from the upstream of Ukai dam in Gujarat. Sources said that the latter was reluctant to part with this share, as it is currently used to irrigate about 35,000 acre farmland in Gujarat.
A senior Maharashtra BJP minister said that diverting water to Gujarat without getting the same in return would have been politically risky for Fadnavis. “The Opposition would have accused us the selling the interests of the state. We cannot afford such a risk in the run-up to the state polls,” he said.
But senior officials admitted that Tuesday’s move had financial implications for the exchequer. “The Centre had agreed to fund the project in the 90:10 ratio. It had agreed to bear a bulk of the project cost. Under the new circumstances, we’ll need to raise funds on our own,” an official said.
On Tuesday, the state Cabinet decided to raise funds and take loans from the open market for the project. The Mumbai municipality has also agreed to provide Rs 800 crore from its kitty towards its share in the project. Sources said that the government plans to apprise the Centre of the new development within the next couple of days, seeking financial assistance. It is also willing to reconsider the decision of going it alone if the Gujarat government alters its stance over the release of water from the Ukai dam, sources added.