WHILE THE Congress has written to the state chief election officer asking for Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Babanrao Lonikar’s candidature to be cancelled over a video clip in which he is allegedly seen talking about distributing money, the minister says his campaign rides on his having channeled nearly Rs 4,700 crore worth of development funds to his constituency of Partur in Jalna, “the maximum among all constituencies”.
Claiming that his home district of Jalna in drought-hit Marathwada received development funds totalling Rs 20,000 crore in five years, Lonikar candidly says he ensured that Partur received the largest chunk. “In five years, I got more funds than what was allocated in 50 years for Partur,” Lonikar (60) tells The Indian Express while on a padyatra through Partur town.
Of this, Rs 600 crore is for a section of the Shegaon-Pandharpur Road, a 2,000-km road that includes a 95-km stretch through Partur. “It is a cement road, with 200 villages along its sides. All 200 are in my constituency. These villages have fruit orchards, their trucks can go to Mumbai or Nagpur or to markets in Pandharpur or Kolhapur in five hours. The value of land in these areas has gone up from Rs 5 lakh an acre to Rs 3 crore an acre,” he says.
Lonikar, a two-term legislator, reels off more details of funds, all in crores — Rs 1 crore to Rs 10 crore for each of 300 villages, more crores for roads in 65 hamlets, cultural auditoriums in 200 villages, Rs 100 crore for tourism, Rs 1,100 crore for asphalting roads as well as tenders invited for an air-conditioned sports complex each for Mantha and Partur towns worth Rs 15 crore with German equipment.
“Two sports complexes were planned for Marathwada. I got both for my constituency… Two hostels for girls from backward castes were to be built in Marathwada. I took both for my constituency,” says Lonikar.
As minister for water supply and sanitation, Lonikar says his trump card will be water — a ‘Partur-Mantha Water Grid’ on which work is already underway and will eventually be part of the Rs 16,000-crore Marathwada Water Grid project.
Partur and Mantha, the two urban hubs of the minister’s constituency, are to get a Rs 247-crore water supply project for which work is being undertaken by the Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran (MJP), nodal agency for the Marathwada Water Grid project.
Lonikar said that 173 villages in the talukas of Mantha, Partur and Jalna will be supplied drinking water through the Partur-Mantha Water Grid, which will use the Lower Dudhna project as its main source as well as a series of wells to be sunk in the submergence area of the dam. The wells and water from the Lower Dudhna will be conveyed through 700-mm pipelines across the region with pumping stations and a water purification centre also planned.
“These villages will be free of water scarcity,” Lonikar says. The Partur-Mantha pilot water grid will cost Rs 247 crore. Officials at MJP said this grid would eventually become a part of the Marathwada Water Grid, a proposed network of giant pipelines running thousands of kilometres to connect the region’s 11 major reservoirs, including water treatment plants and pumping stations, to provide piped drinking water to villages. The central idea of the project is to convey water from surplus reservoirs to areas facing a scarcity.
Lonikar is facing a tough contest from Congress’ Suresh Jethliya, a former MLA who is getting support from the Muslims in Partur town. “I have given protection to Muslims,” Lonikar tells a gathering of Muslim traders, shop-owners and residents during his padyatra. “I used to get 2,300 votes for this town, but you have given my wife 9,000 votes. Muslims, Dalits, all have given us votes.”
Lonikar’s wife Mandakini is an elected member of the Partur Municipal Council. The minister says he had also “given” schools to 100 Muslims across Jalna to educate children from the community.