Mishandled dam projects cost Maharashtra Rs26,617 cr: CAG

As farmers in large parts of Maharashtra face a near-drought situation, a stinging report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has squarely blamed the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government in the mishandling irrigation projects.

The CAG has found that over 400 canals and dams are incomplete, causing cost overruns of Rs26,617 crore, with some projects delayed for as long as 40 years.

From large-scale and arbitrary increases in the cost of irrigation projects to violations of guidelines set by a high-powered committee to needless advances doled out to contractors, the latest CAG report has dug up more dirt on the state irrigation department, which was headed by NCP leader and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar from 1999 to 2009 and later by his close ally Sunil Tatkare.

The CAG report, which was presented in the Maharashtra assembly on Thursday, revealed that in 242 of 426 incomplete projects undertaken by five major irrigation development corporations, the initial budgets increased from Rs7,215 crore to Rs33,832 crore, with a total cost overrun of Rs26,617 crore.

Ajit Pawar had to resign in September 2012 over reports of his mishandling of the irrigation portfolio; with 'hurried' approvals of projects totalling Rs20,000 crore during an eight-month period in 2009 without the mandatory clearance of the governing council of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation. From just June to August, 32 projects got approvals.

However, he was re-instated as deputy chief minister after an enquiry committee gave him a clean chit.

The irrigation projects with cost overruns of over Rs800 crore were Krishna Marathwada, Kukadi, Lower Dudhna, Nandur Madhmeshwar, Waghur, Lower Tapi, Shelgaon Barrage Medium Project, Bodwad Parisar Sinchan Yojna and Koyna Hydro Electric Power Station, the CAG report said.

It observed that in the Washim division, where two major and 81 minor irrigation projects were undertaken, only an irrigation potential of 1,867 hectares, or 16 per cent of the total potential of 11,483 ha, could be utilised. The high-powered committee recommendation - giving priority to projects on which expenditure incurred was over 75 per cent and between 75 per cent and 50 per cent, and stopping those on which the cost incurred was less than 50 per cent - was violated.

The CAG report said the division spent Rs313 crore during 2009-11 on 59 new projects. However, the committee's norm was not applied on at least 15 old projects, leading to delays.

Among other strictures, the report said the decision by the water resources department and Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation to award work without establishing the legal status of land for construction of a canal at the Lower Dudhna Project led to stoppage of work after incurring expenses of Rs3.5 crore. It jeopardized recovery of the mobilization advance of Rs2.3 crore from the contractor.

The CAG report also criticised work undertaken at the Kolkewadi dam in Ratnagiri, needless expenditure of Rs1.5 crore on the Waghur Dam Project, irregular payment of Rs99 lakh on the Tillari Irrigation Project and an extra expenditure of Rs12.83 crore for the construction of protection bund at Bhandara.

Last year, the economic survey said irrigation in Maharashtra had risen by just 0.1 per cent to 17.9 per cent from 2001 to 2010 despite Rs70,000 crore being spent on irrigation projects.

In its audit report on state finances for the year ending March 2012, the CAG said in the 426 incomplete projects, the time overruns were up to 40 years. The projects, on which an expenditure of Rs43,270.01 crore had been incurred, were being executed by the water resource department and the five irrigation development corporations.

The highest cost overrun was seen in the Krishna Marathwada Irrigation project, which started in 2007. The initial budgeted cost was Rs2,382.50 crore but was later revised to Rs4,845.05 crore, a cost overrun of Rs2,462.55 crore. This was followed by the Kukadi project, where costs rose from Rs31.18 crore in 1967 to Rs2,184.16 crore, an overrun of Rs2,152.98 crore.