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Budget 2018: This is why Maharashtra's drought woes are likely to continue

Even after 20 years, irrigation projects worth Rs 9 billion remain incomplete and now their cost is expected to be more than Rs 50 billion

Sai Manish  |  New Delhi 

crop, farmers, agriculture, drought, farmer
A shepherd walks on the dry Undale lake in Karad, Maharashtra

In many ways, the Lendi irrigation project close to the Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra border continues to be a prime example of the excruciating delays that have plagued irrigation projects in India.

Conceived in 1987, this major irrigation project was to be completed in 1992. The project involved building a dam at the Lendi river to store over 6 trillion cubic metres of water before it joined the Manjira river, a tributary of the Godavari, the largest river of peninsular India. The project being executed by the Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation Ltd was originally envisaged to be built at the cost of half a billion rupees. But in 2016, authorities further pushed the completion date to 2020 with a revised cost of Rs 14 billion. If the project is completed after 28 years of delay, it will join 16 other such irrigation projects in Maharashtra that have been hanging fire for over two decades. Many of these projects are in the severe drought-hit regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada in the state.

This shouldn’t have been much of a bother for Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who gets set to present his government’s last full-fledged on February 1, 2018. But the fact that such delayed projects dot Maharashtra would certainly rankle the finance minister. Information sourced from his ministry shows that these multi-decade delays in completing minor and major irrigation projects across Maharashtra have cost the government a lot of money over the years. Out of a total of 29 irrigation projects under construction in the state, 16 are delayed with massive time lags. These projects that should have been completed at an estimated cost of Rs 9 billion will now end up costing more than Rs 50 billion. And the fate of those expected to be commissioned in 2018 still remains unclear.

Maharashtra might be India’s richest state, yet every year the state faces debilitating droughts leading to destruction of farm livelihoods and loss of life due to the paucity of drinking water. In 2013, the state faced its worst drought ever. If that wasn’t enough, in 2015 and 2016 severe droughts again hit the state. Reports suggest that the state’s farmers sought insurance to the tune of Rs 41 billion for crop losses due to drought in 2016. That year, the agriculture sector in the state contracted by 4.6 per cent.

While Jaitley might be inclined to announce new irrigation projects for Maharashtra, the Narendra Modi administration might do well to ensure that irrigation projects scheduled to be completed this year and the ones hanging fire for more than two decades see the light of the day first, without suffering the same fate as other projects like the Lendi irrigation project. Finance ministry data show that at least six irrigation projects in the drought-hit state are scheduled to be commissioned in 2018. All these projects were conceived before 1997. Although conceived at a cost of Rs 7 billion, their revised completion cost 20 years later exceeds Rs 27 billion.

First Published: Wed, January 24 2018. 16:35 IST