In scarcity, NCP eyes political opportunity
For the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), it appears that scarcity creates opportunity. While 15 districts of the state are reeling under a drought-like situation, the NCP is reportedly trying to juice what it can from the calamity. The party seems bent on involving Governor K Sankaranarayanan to release reserved funds for its political stronghold of Western Maharashtra, just as in 2003, when the then governor had relaxed norms to allocate more funds to the region.
In the thick so far
Under the party’s patronage, Western Maharashtra has always had it good. It is considered more progressive and the irrigation projects located in Pune, Satara, Sangli, Solapur, Kolhapur, Ahmadnagar and Nashik have always received a major share of the state funds. But of the 15 districts currently under the spell of scarcity, six are from the western belt and are known for NCP’s strong presence. Till date, the Congress-NCP state government has spent Rs 28 crore, out of which Rs 20 crore have been spent on tackling the water scarcity and Rs 8 crore on the provision of fodder for the cattle.
What’s more, the government has cleared arrears approximately worth Rs 4 crore, which are owed by the village panchayats for common water supply schemes. This was rarely done in the past, said sources from the state government. This has helped 292 villages that were earlier dependant on water supplied through tankers. Currently, almost six lakh people have been working on over 54,000 works under the state rural employment guaranty scheme.
Need a repeat
Now, the contentious issue is the much-discussed white paper on irrigation schemes. According to a senior Congress minister, NCP wants a repeat of the situation in 2003 when then governor Mohammed Fazal allowed diversion of funds in the name of providing water to parts of Western Maharashtra. The norms relaxed by Fazal for increased allocation to the western belt proved immensely beneficial to the NCP politically, whose maximum MLAs are from the region. Fazal had even appointed a 15-member monitoring committee to supervise drought relief operations, as the funds reserved in the name of removing irrigation backlog were unlocked.
But the state’s decision to approve the formation of the Statutory Development Boards, one each for Vidarbha, Marathwada and the rest of Maharashtra, enabled the governor to take over the responsibility of equitable fund allocation to different regions to remove the backlog of irrigation projects. With this the parts of Vidarbha and Marathwada are getting more funds than the rest of Maharashtra.
Reportedly, the party wants the incumbent governor to follow in the former governor’s line. Party supremo Sharad Pawar recently criticised Sankaranarayanan for deciding to take stock of the drought situation from the comforts of Raj Bhavan, rather than visiting the region. The desperation from the NCP is noteworthy as criticism came in from a very seasoned leader such as Pawar, who has also been CM of the state, the Congress minister said.