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Political clean up a must in wake of irrigation scam

Governor K Sankarana-rayanan could not have known what Maharashtra was going to witness in the next two years when he during one of his meetings with assembly speaker Dilip Walse Patil in 2012 said something needed to be done about the state of affairs.

Walse Patil reportedly suggested that the Governor organise a meeting or seminar to discuss what was happening in the state, but he declined and put the onus on the Vidhan Bhavan secretariat.

Thus, the seminar ‘Maharashtra: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ was organised at Vidhan Bhavan the same year, where senior MLA Ganpatrao Deshmukh from the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) blew open the lid to one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the state.

Referring to figures from the State Economic Survey report for the year 2010-11, Deshmukh, an authoritative figure on irrigation, said that despite spending Rs 26,000 crore since the year 2001, just 0.1 per cent of the area from the state had come under irrigation. Leader of opposition Eknath Khadse, however, corrected him and said the amount was Rs 70,000 crore.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was present on the dais, responded and said a white paper would be released on the state irrigation sector soon. What happened later is manifested in a comprehensive report by an expert committee headed by renowned water management expert Madhavrao Chitale. It has not only revealed the mess in the irrigation sector but the systemic rot in governance.

Known for being mild-natured, Chitale has not used any harsh words and has also refrained from naming anyone directly, but the contents of the report clearly point fingers to higher-ups in the successive governments.
It’s not just the NCP, whose leaders have been heading the state irrigation department since 1999, but the Congress shares the blame too.

Today, the NCP claims its leaders such as Ajit Pawar, Sunil Tatkare and Dr Padmasingh Patil who were in charge of the department, have been given a clean chit since the Chitale probe panel has not blamed political bosses. But, it is common knowledge that no bureaucrat, howsoever senior, can take decisions unless directed by bosses in Mantralaya.

The facts revealed through the Chitale report, and a CAG report tabled simultaneously in the state legislature on Saturday, state that the cost overruns have left the state coffers bleeding. The Chitale report says that the cost overrun of 100 projects analysed by it was nearly Rs 60,266 crore, excluding the price rise over the period of time, which would be an additional Rs 31,714 crore.

The CAG report, on the other hand, says 363 projects incurred an additional cost of Rs 47,427 crore. Surely these money-guzzling projects have made a hole in the state treasury, benefiting the chain of people engaged in the process of approvals, implementation and supervision.

The Chitale committee report has blamed officials from the state water resources department, who will face inquiries that may go on for a few years. It will be interesting to see how they defend themselves even though they implemented orders from people sitting in Mantralaya. Whatever the probes may say, there is no denying the fact that the state has suffered a lot in terms of development.

Ammunition
For opposition parties, these reports provide ammunition to use against the Congress-led coalition government during the campaigning for the upcoming assembly polls. Even if the Congress and NCP take a stand that officials have been blamed by the probe panel and their leaders are clean, it will be pointed out that they failed to stop the officials, exposing their incompetency.

It also remains to be seen how opposition parties such as the BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS exploit the scam to further their political interests. It should not be forgotten that until Ganpatrao Deshmukh spoke on the issue and the CM announced a white paper in 2012, the issue did not top the BJP-Shiv Sena agenda.

This could be due to the saffron alliance leaders being wary of their roles in the irrigation sector when they were in power from 1995 to 1999. However you see the issue, the Chitale committee report and CAG’s findings should be an eye opener for our netas. If they are really worried about the future of Maharashtra, the malaise in governance should be treated right away.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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