In a wake-up call to his own party’s government in Maharashtra, which is reeling under drought-like conditions, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, said the state needs to do much more on the irrigation front and water conservation to address the shortage of water.
Responding to queries at the Express Adda in Mumbai Friday evening, Gadkari, who is also the BJP MP from Nagpur, said: “Telangana which is one-third of Maharashtra has given Rs 25,000 crore for irrigation projects. A big state like Maharashtra has a budget of just Rs 7,000 crore for irrigation projects. I feel the state government should give greater priority to irrigation projects.”
Underlining that “drought is not an overnight phenomenon”, he said: “States like Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan have been facing water problems.”
“In states like Madhya Pradesh, agriculture growth was 23 per cent. It has come down to 20 per cent… Maharashtra has been registering a negative agriculture growth for last several years,” he said.
Making clear that he did not wish to get into a blame game, Gadkari said: “Irrigation development has long been neglected. The irrigation potential at present is just 18.5 per cent.”
He recalled the Jalsandharan (water conservation) initiative of the late Congress chief minister Sudhakarrao Naik who, like him, hailed from Vidarbha. “I always held Sudhakarrao Naik in high regard for his work on water conservation.”
The state government, he said, should give greater priority to water conservation schemes like check dams to meet the water crisis. “Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has taken a good initiative through the Jalyukt-Shivar Abhiyan,” he said.
On the controversy over shifting the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches outside Maharashtra in view of the water shortage, he said, “It is a non-issue. There is nothing wrong if they use recycled water for cricket… Rs 100 crore generated from the games should have been used for drought relief in Marathwada… Why should the judiciary give orders on a cricket match?”
Asked if he would like to return to Maharashtra as chief minister, he said, “I will never come back to Mumbai. Delhi is my destination. Devendra Fadnavis is a very capable man.” He said he will continue to ensure rapid development in his own home state. “I want to work as Maharashtra’s ambassador for five years.”
“Whether it is the development of Mumbai Port Trust or inland waterways along the coast, there are several projects which are now on the fast-track. The hybrid model of fund-raising has ensured no project suffers for want of money. But what needs to be addressed is the system,” he said.
Responding to a question on the suspension of AIMIM legislator Waris Pathan from the Maharashtra assembly for refusing to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Gadkari said, “If we don’t raise the slogan in India where else? In Pakistan, they say Pakistan Ki Jai…. what’s wrong.”
On the rows over the JNU incident and the suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, he said, “How can anybody justify ‘Hindustan Ki Barbadi’ slogans? There are these leftist groups who have some allergy… In the case of Vemula, it took place in Telangana…The problem is they cannot digest how a RSS-BJP wallah has become the Prime Minister of India. So, they pick such issues… this is vote bank politics at the cost of development.”