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White paper on irrigation in Maharashtra fails to clear air

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The much-talked about white paper on Maharashtra’s irrigation sector is silent on how a nexus among politicians, contractors and government employees led to cost and time overruns in the case of 38 irrigation projects, especially in the . Also, the paper hasn’t considered the scathing attacks of the Vadnere and Mendhegiri committees, which had extensively examined the payment of mobilisation advances to contractors and violation of norms, if any, during project implementation.

In the two-part white paper, the water resources department clarified there were no irregularities in project implementation, arguing the state’s irrigation potential rose 28 per cent, while the land under irrigation increased 72 per cent between 2001 and 2010. It gave a clean chit to Nationalist Congress Party leader , who had resigned as deputy chief minister in September, following allegations he was involved in a multi-crore .

In 2009, in a period of merely seven months, the cost of 38 irrigation projects launched by the (VIDC) rose by a whopping Rs 20,050.06 crore — from Rs 6,672.27 crore to Rs 26,722.33 crore. Thirty of the 38 projects were hurriedly granted approvals in four days---11 projects secured nods on August 14, 2009, 10 in June, five on July 7 and four on August 18.

In its report, the Vadnere committee said cost updates of 37 of the 137 major tenders were carried out according to government norms. However, the estimated costs of the remaining 90 tenders were found to be updated outside the purview of government regulations.

It added before inviting tender bids, the estimated cost of the tenders, along with any change in the scope and structure, should have been updated. In some cases, the cost of tenders were not based on the current department schedule of rate and, curiously, appeared to be much higher than the actual cost.

The committee had asked VIDC to probe discrepancies in rates. It had urged VIDC to ascertain whether raw materials could be procured from nearby areas, ensuring cost cuts. It had made a strong case for transparency in the provision of mobilisation advances to contractors. The opposition and petitioners in various courts had alleged some contractors were provided huge mobilisation advances, owing to their ties with politicians and VIDC officials.

On the Gosikhurd irrigation project, declared a national project, the committee said rates were arbitrarily increased in the case of 90 major tenders. A rise of up to five per cent was allowed if tenders were to be sanctioned by the VIDC executive director, 5-10 per cent at the level of the executive water resources department secretary and more than 15 per cent by the finance department. However, it was found in most cases, officials awarded tenders at rates 15-40 per cent above original estimates, at the level of VIDC executive director.

Another committee, headed by former chief engineer H T Mendhegiri, examined the Gosikhurd project, whose cost rose from Rs 327 crore in 1982 to the current Rs 7,777 crore. It said the quality of lining concrete in the project was poor, and this had resulted in low density and low strength of concrete. Lack of technical competency and supervision on the part of construction engineers had resulted in poor quality of work, it added.

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