October 15, 2020 4:26:59 am
The political tussle between the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and the BJP in Maharashtra has culminated in the Uddhav Thackeray-led government deciding to conduct an inquiry into the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan, which was a pet project launched by former chief minister and now Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis. The state cabinet chaired by Thackeray on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the inquiry.
A statement from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said the decision for an open inquiry into the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan was taken after considering the critical issues raised by the CAG in its report on the quality of work, cost and its impact.
“There was a discussion in the state cabinet on the scheme and it was unanimously decided to conduct an open inquiry considering the CAG report and the complaints received by the government,” said the statement.
The scheme, a personal favourite of Fadnavis, was launched in December 2014, with the goal of making Maharashtra drought-free by 2019. An annual target of drought-proofing 5,000 villages was undertaken.
The inquiry has been ordered a month after the CAG’s report was tabled in the state legislature. The CAG stated that “despite spending Rs 9,633.75 crore, the ‘abhiyan’ (mission) had little impact in achieving water neutrality and increasing groundwater level”. The report further said there was “lack of transparency” in the execution of works and inadequate monitoring by the state water conservation department.
According to the report, the scheme catered to 22,586
villages and 6.41 lakh works were undertaken in all. Of these, 98 per cent or 6.3 lakh works were completed at a cost of Rs 9,633.75 crore. The project involved deepening and widening of streams, construction of cement and earthen stop dams, work on nullahs and digging of farm ponds.
Minister for Water Conservation Shankararao Gadakh said, “There are around 700 complaints about the works of Jalyukt Shivar and complaints are still coming alleging large-scale corruption in the scheme. The inquiry will be conducted into the CAG report and all these complaints that have been received by the government.”
Gadakh said the details of how the probe would be conducted will be worked out in the next few days.
Irrigation Minister Jayant Patil said there were irregularities and sub-standard work was carried out in the scheme. “On top of it, the CAG highlighted certain lacunas and raised objections on it. The cabinet considered all these aspects and the decision was taken to conduct an open inquiry,” said Patil.
However, former BJP minister and MLA Ashish Shelar said the government’s decision to probe Jalyukt Shivar is an insult to the immense contribution made by several lakh people across the rural and urban belt to make Maharashtra drought-free. “The government decision smacks of political vendetta against the good work done during former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ regime to fight water crisis across 25,000 severely drought-hit villages in the state,” said Shelar, adding the party was confident the investigation would be a slap on the MVA when the final report comes out.
On the question that politics is being played on it, Patil said, “The inquiry has nothing to do with politics. The CAG has highlighted wrongdoings and its objections are very serious. We need to conduct an inquiry into the CAG’s objections and the inquiry is about the sub-standard work and corruption in the scheme. The BJP should not fear.”
The cabinet on Wednesday also took a decision to cancel the August 14, 2019 decision of creating a new department as state election department and decided to consider the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) as a branch of General Administration Department. Officials said the Election Commission of India (ECI) has directed the creation of new posts in the CEO’s office but there were no instructions for creation of a new department. So, it was decided to revoke the August 2019 decision, said an official.
The cabinet also cleared a proposal to release grants to 4,582 schools some of which were originally approved on a permanent non-grant basis. A total of 2,165 schools will get 20 per cent grant while another 2,417 schools, which had previously received 20 per cent grant, would get an additional 20 per cent.
The Congress-led School Education department had in August tabled a proposal for providing grants worth to Rs 346 crore for these schools but the proposal was stalled.
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