Updated: May 11, 2018 7:58:38 am
Of 14 lakes across Maharashtra that were selected for government funds in 2017-18 for conservation work under a scheme of the state environment department, 11 are located in Ratnagiri, state Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam’s home district. The senior Shiv Sena leader, now a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, was earlier the MLA of the former Khed Assembly constituency in Ratnagiri for four consecutive terms, until 2009.
According to documents accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act, the minister sanctioned funds worth Rs 12.47 crore for the rejuvenation of 11 lakes in his home district during the last financial year, of which Rs 4.55 crore was released.
Between 2006-2007, when the State Lake Conservation Scheme (SLCS) was launched, and the year 2016-17, 44 lakes were selected for funds under the scheme. Of these, seven are from Nagpur, six from Kolhapur and four each from Thane and Sangli. By the end of 2017-18, the total number of lakes selected for funds by the department rose to 58. Of the 14 new ones, 11 are located in Ratnagiri, the remaining three in Kolhapur district.
For the three lakes in Kolhapur, funds worth Rs 8.42 crore were sanctioned, of which Rs 1.05 crore was released.
Sanctions for funds for 11 lakes in Ratnagiri were granted despite a steering committee comprising bureaucrats pointing out that the lion’s share of lakes being considered for funds were located in one out of Maharashtra’s 36 districts.
On June 5, 2017, the minister wrote to Additional Chief Secretary (Environment) Satish Gavai listing 11 lakes to be taken up for ‘appropriate action’. The 11 included 10 from Dapoli taluka and one from Mandangad taluka, both in Ratnagiri district.
A steering committee overseeing the operation of the scheme, headed by Gavai, held a meeting on July 19, 2017 to discuss the proposals. In all, 12 proposals were placed before the committee. These included the 11 new proposals forwarded by the minister and one proposal, also suggested by him but regarding altering the scope of work on a previously sanctioned lake at Khed in Ratnagiri, involving no change in funds sanctioned.
In the minutes of the meeting, the committee noted: “So far, three lake conservation proposals have been approved in Ratnagiri district. If these 11 new proposals are to be taken, then 14 lakes will be from Ratnagiri district itself.”
“Since there are directions from Minister for Environment, the Committee suggested that it will scrutinise the proposals technically and the decision of releasing the funds can be taken on the state government level,” it added.
The committee then approved all 12 proposals. However, the environment department then released funds for 10 lakes — Bhairi lake in Jalgaon village, Gavtale lake in Gavtale village, Gothan lake in Virsai village, Umbherghar lake in Gudhage village, Gimhvane lake in Gimhvane-Vanand village, Kond lake in Nirmal village, Taleshwarnagar lake in Burondi village, Gauri lake in Umbarshet village, Kondi lake in Jamage village (all in Dapoli taluka) and Kumbharli lake in Lokarvan village of Mandangad taluka. A 11th lake, Kelin lake in Bhopan village, Dapoli, was approved but no funds have been released yet.
Kadam maintained there was no conflict of interest in approving projects for his home district. “There is nothing wrong. All the proposals were scrutinised and approvals given as per norms. Though they have been granted approvals, that doesn’t mean we have given them all the funds. We have disbursed part amount as first instalment for three years. The remaining amount will be released after the works included for the first instalment are completed,” Kadam told The Indian Express.
Documents show that of the 58 lakes across the state selected for funds until now, 23 are in the Konkan region (including the 11 Ratnagiri lakes approved last year), 17 are located in Western Maharashtra, four in North Maharashtra, two in Marathwada and 12 in Vidarbha.
Three lakes in Ratnagiri (Khamb lake in Khed, Nargoli lake in Dapoli and Koteshwari Manai Mandir lake in Khed) were granted funds in 2015, after Kadam became environment minister in December 2014.
Asked about the large number of proposals from one district, Kadam said: “So far, injustice has been meted out to Konkan in the lake conservation scheme. We have given approvals to lakes from other districts as well. If we get proposals from others districts as per norms, we will approve those too.”
Gavai refused to comment on the issue.
However, environment department officials said there is no provision in the scheme regarding how many lakes in all or how many from one district may be approved in a year. “The approvals have been given in the absence of any ceiling for number of lakes from a district,” said a senior official.
Also, the department has no data on the total number of lakes in the state or on how many of these require such funds for dredging, cleaning and beautification. It is now in the process of creating a database of all wetlands in the state, in which lakes could also be mapped, added the official.
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