Vidarbha, one of the most backward regions of Maharashtra where farmers frequently commit suicide because of severe drought year after year, goes to polls in two phases, on April 11 and 18. Not surprisingly, the neglected irrigation sector is the main poll issue in the region, which has 10 Lok Sabha constituencies, with the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena highlighting the steps it has taken for the sector and how “corruption” under the previous Congress-NCP government had led to its neglect.
In the first phase on April 11, voting will take place in Nagpur, Wardha, Bhandara-Gondia, Yavatmal-Washim, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Chandrapur and Ramtek. In the second phase on April 18, Akola, Buldhana and Amravati will vote.
Over last week, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis held rallies in Wardha, Ramtek, Yavatmal-Washim and Gadchiroli-Chimur, outlining the measures his government has taken to bring more farmland under irrigation. “The government has focused on higher allocations for Vidarbha and Marathwada regions to address the long-pending irrigation backlog to make farming sustainable. The reforms have yielded positive results,” Fadnavis said. “In the last four years, the drought-hit districts in Vidarbha and Marathwada have received allocations of Rs 38,000 crore. It includes Rs 10,800 crore from the Centre for 26 irrigation projects,” he added.
The BJP has also raked up the alleged irrigation scam under the previous Congress-NCP rule. The party has further accused the Congress-NCP of failing to make adequate allocation for the region.
According to the BJP, the “irrigation backlog” — the shortfall in target set by the government to bring farmland under irrigation — was 2,57,518 hectares in 2009-10. In 2017-18, the “backlog” was 1,80,538 hectares. The BJP, however, claimed that in the last four years the government has brought 43,167 hectares of this “backlog” under irrigation, adding that the government plans to wipe out the “irrigation backlog” in the Vidarbha region by 2022.
Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan said, “The total expenditure on irrigation projects in the last four years across the state has been Rs 30,406 crore. In all, 225 projects were shortlisted, of which 118 projects have been completed creating an additional water storage capacity of 1,628 million cubic metres. In the last four years, 7.5 lakh hectares have been brought under irrigation.” A senior official in the ministry said, “Of the 118 projects, 64 are in the Vidarbha region. These projects were executed by the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).”
Moreover, of 23,944 hectares acquired by the government for irrigation projects across Maharashtra, 12,573 hectares were acquired in Vidarbha, the maximum. Besides, the Rs 18,500-crore Gosikhurd irrigation project has been fast-tracked and is expected to be completed by 2019-20. The project had been hanging fire since 1984.
The BJP feels that once the Gosikhurd project is completed, the agrarian unrest in Vidarbha would end. A project manager in VIDC said, “The project will help Bhandara-Gondia, Chandrapur and Nagpur. It will bring 2.5 lakh hectares of land under irrigation.”
Other important projects in Vidarbha include the Katepurna barrage (Akola); Dindori barrage (Chandrapur); Surewada Usiyo (Bhandara) and Takli Dolari Lapa (Yavatmal), among others. Six projects that have got forest clearance include Wardha Lapa (Yavatmal); Bhimalkasa Lapa (Bhandara); Pench project (Khindsi); Purak Kalwa (Nagpur); Gosikhurd (Bhandara) and Jingava (Buldhana).
Meanwhile, NCP leader Nawab Malik said, “The BJP’s allegations of a Rs 70,000-crore irrigation scam are baseless. They use such allegations to dent our party’s image. But people are not going to be fooled.”