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Pawar's dam lobby in Maharashtra led to tiff with Cong?

July 26, 2012 09:20 IST

Even as the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress appeared to have overcome some of their differences on Wednesday, it is being stated that the real reason for the former's unhappiness seems to lie somewhere closer to home: in Maharashtra.

Pune-based South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People has claimed that the recent tiff with the Congress has exposed the NCP leadership's involvement in a major dam lobby in Maharashtra.

The lobby has promptly taken on whoever has been critical of performance of large dams in the state, SANDRP claims, adding that the NCP seems especially miffed with Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan, who has sought a white paper on irrigation projects, and Governor K Shankaranarayanan who, in his speech in March, chided the government for performing dismally on irrigation.

The water resource ministry in Maharashtra has been with the NCP since its inception in 1999.

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar's nephew, held the portfolio from October 1999-October 2009 under various chief ministers (Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan). Since 2009, Sunil Tatkare, also from the NCP, has been running the ministry.

SANDRP claims that in this period, the NCP has worked effectively only as a large dam lobby in Maharashtra, promoting more unjustifiable projects to benefit contractors.

According to the agriculture department, in the past ten years, more that Rs 70,000 crore have been spent on major and medium irrigation projects in Maharashtra, only to achieve 0.1 per cent rise in irrigated area.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, SANDRP substantiated its claim about a major dam scam unfolding in Maharashtra and the defensiveness of NCP and its leaders at each stage.

It said, "On March 17, 2012, the Maharashtra governor, in his speech highlighted the serious problems with irrigation sector in Maharashtra.

This seemed to be a major turn off for the NCP, who have been closely associated with large dams in Western Maharashtra, including the consistently non-performing, huge white elephant called the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation.

In his response on April 7, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar criticised the governor and state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for not doing enough for drought-prone areas in the state. The attack was strange, unprecedented and surprised many.

A 'highly disappointed' Pawar fired his salvo not from the irrigation backlog-hit Vidarbha but in Satara and Sangli in Western Maharashtra."

Later that month, India Against Corruption and partner organisations analysed the dam scam, highlighting dams like Kondhane, Kalu, Shai, Susari and Balganga where the government reportedly went all out to favour a particular contractor -- FA Constructions and FA Enterprises -- with close political links.

SANDRP claims that the irregularities in tendering, cost and height escalations, violation of environmental and forest norms was blatant and mind-boggling.

What stood out was the confidence with which nearly every law was flouted by the government and the contractor, secure in its belief that nothing can affect its way of working, without any consideration the predominantly tribal population or for Western Ghats ecology or if the dams were in fact needed, it added.

Armed with the details, the NGOs approached the chief minister who promised to look into the matter.

On May 4, Chavan announced that government will publish a White Paper on irrigation projects, looking at investment and performance of irrigation projects in the past 10 years.

Days later, Chavan was in New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seek funds for drought relief. NCP leader and Union Minister Praful Patel took the opportunity and asked Dr Singh to allocate more funds for the Gosikhurd project, which has been heavily delayed with costs and time overruns.

This despite the Comptroller and Auditor General raising a red flag after it exposed massive corruption in the project.

Pawar, meanwhile, continued to shield Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare.

On May 10, Pawar slammed the governor's decision to give priority to projects in Vidarbha over Godavari and termed it as 'a threat to the state's unity'.

Defending the dam projects, he said, "So what if canals are not yet built. At least water has been stopped and water taken from rivers for the sugarcane crop."

SANDRP claims that Pawar now seems to be rushing to save his party's face while trying to ensure that the scams associated with large dams and canals, diversion of water to industries and sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra are not discussed.

The White Paper that Chavan promised to table within 15 days (from May 4) has now been pushed forward till the winter session of the state legislature.