Before leaving for Delhi on Friday on a two-day visit, Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde held a closed-door meeting with Deputy CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis to discuss and review mega projects started by the previous NDA government but which had been stalled by the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government. A senior officer who was present at the meeting said, “The first decision at the meeting was that Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan (JSA) should be restarted. A detailed status report on the project is being worked on.”
The decision to restart what had been Fadnavis’s pet project as CM is an open political challenge to the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress — constituents of the MVA.
Highly placed sources told The Indian Express, “The Deputy Chief Minister has given a stern directive to the water conservation department to immediately start the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has given his consent for the scheme.”
In 2014, Fadnavis, who was leading the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government, launched the ambitious JSA with a stated objective to make Maharashtra drought-free. The flagship project was undertaken in phases in drought-hit villages across the state. Under the scheme, 25,000 drought-prone villages were selected and various water conservation projects such as building canals, bunds and ponds, and deepening and widening of existing water structures were launched.
Until 2019, the JSA had support from across the political spectrum with leaders of different parties competing for conservation works in their constituencies. The project was also a part of the Sena-BJP’s 2019 poll campaign, which highlighted how 6.41 lakh works were completed across 22,586 villages between 2014 and 2019 at a cost of Rs 9,633.75 crore.
The project, however, ran into a roadblock after the Sena broke off with the BJP and came to power as part of the MVA.
Within a month of taking over, the Thackeray government decided to stay the project. This was followed by a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that pointed to irregularities in some works under JSA.
The CAG report stated, “Even after spending Rs 9,633.75 crore, the project has had little impact in achieving water neutrality and increasing ground water level.” Its objection was to the “lack of transparency” and “lack of monitoring” which, it said, defeated its stated purpose of creating adequate water storage in villages.
The CAG report findings were based on surveys in 83 of the total 120 shortlisted villages.
Following the CAG report, the MVA had set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe its findings. Some of the 1,000 shortlisted cases that allegedly involved irregularities were referred to the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Fadnavis had argued, “JSA is a people’s project. It would be wrong to dismiss the entire project as a failure. Out of 22,586 villages, 83 villages were surveyed. And some irregularities in these 83 villages were established. It would be incorrect to apply the findings in 83 villages to all 22,000-plus villages which yielded excellent results and helped farmers…. During my tenure, we received 600 complaints related to work. We ordered a probe into all such works.”
Now Fadnavis is back in control and so is the project.
Fadnavis, who has always described the JSA as a “mass movement”, had in his meeting with Shine stressed on how the project had helped several lakh hectares of land under irrigation and encouraged farmers to go in for two crops a year.
In the next meeting, the state government is likely to prepare a comprehensive road map on the phase-wise implementation of JSA.
Speaking to the media in Delhi, CM Shinde said, “All the big projects which were initiated by Fadnavis (as CM) such as JSA, Samruddhi Mahamarg (Mumbai-Nagpur expressway), Metro rail will be expedited.”