Rs 25 cr spent on 382 bunds but no sign of water

Much water has flown under the bridge since MiD DAY, through a series of reports (‘Thane, where water is a luxury’, April 26, ‘Water may be unfit for human consumption’, April 27, ‘Dolara villagers drink water unfit for animals’, May 4, and ‘Minister wants to know what Dolara villagers are drinking’ May 19), revealed the pathetic situation of citizens in drought-hit parts of the state and the apathetic attitude of authorities towards them. In the last story, we had reported about state tribal development minister Rajendra Gavit’s decision to provide relief to affected villagers, by arranging for storage tanks, sanitation, and comprehensive testing of quality of water.

High and dry: This bund at Dolara village serves no purpose. PIC/Shadab Khan

It’s also worth mentioning that as many as 382 bunds were constructed by authorities between 2008 and March 31, 2012 in four affected talukas (Mokhada-118, Jawhar-100, Wada-98 and Vikramgad-66) of Thane, spending a whopping Rs 25.31 crore. However, none of the embankments could better the water-scarcity situation. Investigations by MiD DAY and documentary evidence collected from the minor irrigation department, zilla parishad (ZP), Thane, by this paper reveal this. ZP has constructed 1,212 such bunds in all of Thane’s rural talukas in the same period.

Empty promises: Locals getting water from an open drain near a bund in Kapricha Pada, Jawhar taluka. Pics/Shadab Khan

Villagers suffer
Ravindra Shivade, social activist and director of Urban Co-operative Bank, Jawhar, said, “A high-level probe should be carried out into the construction of bunds in the recent past across Thane’s rural areas. In the name of fixing the water-crisis problem, local contractors in connivance with zilla parishad officials have run a racket and have looted public money. Bunds are expected to deal with water problems post monsoon. But here, none of the bunds have water after the rainy season, leading to a drought situation.” MiD DAY, along with Shivade and a few tribespeople, visited some of the villages where the bunds were constructed and was shocked to find that almost all the embankments were dry (see box: Bunds gone bust).

Dead end!
A case in point is a minor irrigation bund at Kapricha Pada in Jawhar taluka, work on which started six years ago involving Rs 3.02 crore and is yet to be completed. As per the records available, the bund was expected to be constructed on 126 hectares of land and could store approximately 1645.90 cubic metres of water. However, we found that the task was far from over and there was no sign of water, except some putrid drain water.

According to Shivade, Rs 3.02 crore is only the construction cost of the bund, but separate tenders are floated for building of alternate roads, trial check of soil quality and water presence, blasting of rocks and digging of mud, and the entire cost goes up by a few crores. It is also a known fact that the contractor ensures percentage cut varying between 10 and 15 per cent to officers and engineers in ZP for getting the contract, said Shivade. The bhoomi pujan for the aforementioned venture had happened once in the mid 1980s by the hands of the then chief minister Shankarrao Chavan. A huge chunk of money was spent, as the CM had visited the location by a helicopter, but nothing happened for years. Then, six years ago, present excise and labour minister Ganesh Naik did another puja, spending more money for an inauguration event, and finally work started. But the job never got done.

Drained out
Local villagers from Aptala, with a population of more than 1,000, and Kapricha Pada, home to about 1,500 people, have to walk 5 to 6 kilometres to collect water from an open drain. Sunil Pawar (26) from Aptala village said, “We have lost our roads and land for the bund. Our only hope was that we would get water. But in the last six years nothing has happened. Even during monsoon, the water does not get stored and we have to walk several kilometres to get water. The entire project is a waste.” Similar was the opinion of Nanu Khutade (57), who was spotted with a few family members filling a water tank. “Our village always faces water problem and unlike other areas where water tankers have been provided, we are even deprived of that. So, we have to come to this open drain, walking 5 to 6 km daily.”

Scam at work
Vasai MLA and chief of Shramajivi Sanghatana, Vivek Pandit too was critical of the government. “The bunds are constructed without any proper planning, study and technical expertise. I had raised my concerns even earlier and had demanded that a feasibility study of soils from Mokhada, Jawhar, Vikramgad and Wada be done by engineers from IIT, Mumbai as the soil water percolation of these talukas does not allow water to be stored and hence soon after monsoon there is no water in the bunds. I am shocked to learn that 382 bunds were constructed in these areas, without any study. I hold the government responsible for this shoddy work and will strongly raise my concerns for waste of public money. This is a scam and needs to be probed.”

Bunds gone bust

Dolara village, Mokhada taluka
Water storage capacity- 0.56 cubic metres
Money spent- R4.88 lakh
Present status- No water

Resident speaks
Krishna Misal, a villager said, “The authorities have constructed bunds but I have never seen water stored in them. This is just a waste of money. The villagers have always faced severe drought problems.”

Tokarkand village, Jawhar taluka
Water storage capacity- 0.56 cubic metres
Money spent- R8.87 lakh
Present status- No water

Resident speaks
Ravindra Shivade, local activist, said, “There already are two wells near the bund, which cater to requirements of water for villagers from Chapalpada with 400 houses, Nandgaon with 1,000 houses, and four to five other villages. The bund does not store water and moreover it creates problems for villagers during monsoon, making it difficult for them to reach the well (the one close to the
bund), as the entire area get inundated.”

Saturli village, Mokhada taluka
Water storage capacity- 0.55 cubic metres
Money spent- R23.66 lakh
Present status- No water

Resident speaks
H P Konde, a local, said, “It is unbelievable that the project cost is over Rs 23 lakh. I was born and brought up in this village and I had never heard of such an expensive project for our village. Moreover, during monsoon villagers get plenty of water in the well and there is no point going to the bund for collecting water. When we require water during other seasons, the bund is dry. Even our animals and birds have no water to drink.”

Minister speaks
Speaking to MiD DAY, state tribal development minister Rajendra Gavit said, “I have learnt that numerous bunds have been constructed in fourteen different talukas consisting of over 1,185 tribal villages and hamlets. The embankments have not been constructed with proper planning and the distance at which one bund has been constructed from another also raises suspicion. I will demand for an independent inquiry into the entire process of construction of bunds by none other than an officer of the rank of an additional collector and also will apprise the concerned ministers about the same. I will also raise strong objection to all future proposals of bunds. It is a clear case of a scam and squandering of public money. This needs to be probed and I have taken serious note of it.”

The other side
Tarun Badgujar, sectional engineer (irrigation), ZP, Thane (rural) clarified that the idea of constructing bunds was to ensure that water could be stored for non-rainy seasons and refuted the charges levied and admitted that the situation was not as thought. He said, “We have not received any complaint from any local residents or authorities doubting quality of any bund. If anybody writes to us, we will surely probe such cases.” When asked if the bunds constructed were physically examined for quality at sites by officials from vigilance and quality control departments, he replied in the negative, adding that every taluka has a deputy engineer and they do on-site inspections. When asked why bunds were constructed at a distance of 100 metres at places where there is no water, Badgujar had no answers. “The approval of bunds and subsequent planning is done at the minor irrigation department office in Kalwa and I am not an authority to speak on this, you can ask my superior VM Devraj, Executive Engineer (irrigation),” he said. Attempts made to contact Devraj did not yield any results. 

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