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White paper or whitewash?

Ravikiran DeshmukhWith prominent leaders making headlines without a break, the issue of irrigation projects in Maharashtra — their cost, quality of work and diversion of land — has become an issue of intense national debate. All eyes and ears are now on the much-awaited and debated white paper, announced by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

For a layman, wherever there is politics and government there has to be something fishy and intent of corruption. The perception cannot be termed as altogether extreme as the system of governance has become alien to him. So, after the infamous Adarsh housing society scam, sleaze in the irrigation sector may prove a watershed moment in the state history, and a lesson in the state governance.

The credit for the ongoing debate on irrigation must go to Gantparao Deshmukh, a very senior MLA representing Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWP).

Elected for a record 10 terms from Sangola (dist Solapur) since 1962, the MLA recently completed 50 years in the state legislature. Known for his penchant for water-related issues as he has been fighting for adequate supply to his constituency since four decades, Deshmukh first referred to the point that despite spending Rs 70,000 crore since 2000, just 0.1 per cent irrigation potential has been created.

After raising the issue during the budget session in March-April this year, he restated it during a debate at Vidhan Bhavan to mark the platinum jubilee of the legislature. Taking the point further, leader of opposition in the assembly Ekanth Khadse dared the CM to order a probe. Replying to this, Prithviraj Chavan promised a white paper, and all hell broke loose. This has been a bone of contention between Congress and NCP for some time now and revelations over inflated costs of a few projects in Raigad and Thane districts later only added to the simmering fire.

So, what exactly is the white paper? If the CM is to be believed, he merely conceded to the demand of opposition members keeping in mind the basic concept – a statement of facts, as per the definition in Delhi. But, here in Maharashtra a white paper is considered a chargesheet, thanks to the one published in December 1999 on the state economy.

Now, while NCP is upset over the delay in issuance of the white paper and has been demanding that it should cover functioning of all irrigation corporations in the state, the document is not likely to be a chargesheet, but a mere fact sheet on financial provisions for the irrigation sector and expenditure incurred on each project. The 1999 white paper put the blame for the financial mess on the erstwhile Shiv Sena-BJP government. That was more of a political white paper as the state economy has never been able to see its past glory because problems further compounded during the Congress-NCP government’s regime.

If the impending white paper disparages NCP — whose members have been heading the irrigation department since 1999 — for the current mess, the government will not survive a day.

NCP is certain to argue that decisions pertaining to irrigation projects had backing of local MLAs, irrespective of the political parties they represent.
It is also important to note that ever since the CM announced the white paper no one from his party has complimented him nor demanded its immediate issuance. Even though certain murmurs could be heard from BJP, the silence from Shiv Sena and MNS camps is deafening.

Even prominent leaders of BJP are not that vocal and a few juniors are seen fighting for the cause. That’s because many unknowns may surface once the white paper is released. NCP leaders say if the report were issued in true spirit, most leaders of major parties would stand exposed, as the party has copies of letters written and representations submitted by them over irrigation projects ready to be made public.

Even though most of the muck in the irrigation sector has been bared in Vidarbha, hardly any leader from the region has appeared at the forefront to say anything that people of the state are unaware of.

A Congress MLA recently confided that the white paper, if ever issued, was certain to prove a ‘washout’ paper.

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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