The relations between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party are further straining, as both parties ruling Maharashtra got into another round of blame game of late. Already into verbal duels over major issues relating to the cooperative sector, drought relief and rehabilitation besides a makeover of Mumbai and regional imbalance, the two coalition partners have now publicly expressed dissatisfaction about the state’s track record in the irrigation sector during the past decade.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who enjoys tacit support from his Congress party’s top brass, now wants the state’s irrigation department, which is under the NCP control since 1999, to come out with a white paper on its developmental projects and activities. Reason: the state’s 2011-12 economic survey shows a mere 0.1 per cent increase in the irrigation potential during the past 10 years.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and irrigation minister Sunil Tatkare have been quick the rebutt the datum. Both the NCP leaders peg the pertinent percentage at 28. Pawar has even launched a scathing attack against Chavan saying that the chief minister should “verify the facts before making a statement”, which he alleged “simply went by the stand of the Opposition and the media”.
On his part, Chavan, known for enjoying blessings from Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her general secretary son Rahul -- maintains that he has not revealed anything beyond what has been published in the survey, which was prepared by Pawar’s own finance ministry.
NCP boss and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is least amused. He has expressed “concern” over the state government’s “repeated move to make paltry allocation to several (irrigation) projects” instead of implementing them in a time-bound manner, thereby stemming an escalation in their original cost.
For the record, both Pawar and his nephew Ajit have welcomed Chavan’s announcement on bringing out the white paper. Only that Pawar has not forgotten to advise Chavan to “refrain from the politics of one-upmanship”.
Pawar, who had headed a coalition government during 1977-1980 in Maharashtra, says “running a coalition government is an art that warrants proper understanding among the coalition partners”. He even praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s successful track-record of running a coalition government since 2004 “by taking all UPA allies on board” at the Centre.
On the ground, the present drought-like situation in 15 districts of the state has widened the rift between the two ruling partners. In fact, many Congress ministers and legislators believe that the NCP, which controls the finance ministry, was meting out a stepmotherly treatment to the under-developed belts of Vidarbha and Marathwada. The NCP refutes this allegation, claiming that even the relatively better developed western Maharashtra was suffering from limitations imposed due to Raj Bhavan’s directions on fund allocation when it came to irrigation projects in that region.
Shard Pawar, who has been flayed Governor K Sankaranarayanan for not touring the state’s districts hit by drought-like situation, now warns against the possibility of a disunited Maharashtra if key issues like provision of water and compensation for crop damage remain unaddressed “without regional bias”.
A deteriorating financial condition of the cooperative sector and its management has added to the worries. While Chavan justifies the government’s year-old move to dissolve a 55-member board of directors of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank and the appointment of an administrator’s rule, the NCP argues that the move has adversely impacted the state’s agriculture and cooperative sector. Chavan claims he would continue to pursue his policies to bring in transparency and reforms in the cooperative sector, but the NCP says it should not “simply target our party and leaders at the cost of the entire cooperative sector”.
Additionally, the Congress and NCP are also divided over the issues of fast urbanisation, especially the much-debated makeover of Mumbai. The chief minister, who seldom misses a chance to take the credit for “curbing an unholy nexus between politicians and realty players”, says he would not clear any individual project; instead prioritise those projects which would benefit the metropolis in general.
It was despite strong opposition from the realty sector that Chavan brought in amendments to the Development Control Rule, more so with regard to availability of floor space index on premium. The NCP, though, says a lack of decision-making by Chavan is affecting the development of several projects in the city. Sharad Pawar called it “shocking” that only Rs 336 crore has been allocated for the education sector in Mumbai. He also attacked the Chavan dispensation’s policy to implement a slew of infrastructure projects through Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Agency and raising funds through the sale of land.