ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Maharashtra's Irrigation Scam

The recent resignation of Ajit Pawar as Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister has come in the wake of an alleged misdemeanour on his part in approving irrigation projects involving cost escalation of thousands of crores of rupees. Unfortunate as this is, his resignation has indeed thrown light on how poorly the state’s irrigation projects are prepared, approved, funded and implemented. It is reported that Ajit Pawar granted approvals for cost escalation in some of these projects without following mandatory procedures when he was the state’s water resources minister during the period 1999-2009. While any potential enquiry into this allegation may hopefully bring out the truth over time, this is not the focus of this letter, which calls for an independent and comprehensive inquiry into Maha­rashtra’s irrigation sector as a whole. In my view, just a white paper prepared by the state bureaucracy may not suffice.

According to Maharashtra’s former additional chief secretary Umeshchandra Sarangi, improper utilisation of funds by successive state governments over the years had left most irrigation projects incomplete. Maharashtra would need an additional Rs 73,000 crore to Rs 93,000 crore to complete these projects, over and above the Rs 70,000 crore already spent. As of June 2011, some 7,366 pro­jects, including 54 major and 72 medium-size projects, were under construction in Maharashtra. Even where the construction of major and medium irrigation has been completed, canals re­quired to irrigate the potential command area are still inadequate. Thus, while the irrigation potential has been created for about 6.4 million ha, the actual utilisation is only about 55% or 3.5 million ha. Even where canals are constructed, the rotation for release of water from the dam is not followed rigorously resulting in farmers’ lack of access to irrigation water.

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