An affidavit filed by the Maharashtra government before the Bombay High Court bench here stating it would take at least 25 years to complete the Lower Painganga project in Vidarbha has shocked beneficiaries and invited ire from the political class.
“Its a mockery of the system and the style of functioning of the government. The affidavit filed by the Water Resources department makes it clear that the present BJP-led government is not serious about completing the project early. There is no political will and the government’s so-called development plank is bogus,” senior Congress leader and former minister Shivajirao Moghe, who has been agitating for the speedy completion of the project, told PTI.
The project, believed to be initially conceived during pre-Independence era, got in-principle approval in 1971. The inter-state project between Maharashtra and Telangana is envisaged to irrigate over 2.25 lakh hectares mostly in suicide-prone Yavatmal and parts of Chandrapur district.
Had it been completed in time, the project could have changed the destiny of the two districts and certainly saved thousands of farmers who committed suicide out of frustration and stress related to rain-fed farming, he said.
The state’s affidavit was in response to court seeking a time-bound plan on a petition filed by Rahul Pugalia on the delay.
Moghe said there is no objection from the people likely to be displaced provided they are given compensation and rehabilitated.
An expert member of Vidarbha Statutory Development Board, M G Kimmatkar has also raised questions about the state claiming a 25-year time frame for the project’s completion.
“Such delays increase the costs manifold and even bring the cost-benefit ratio under cloud. I think the dam work should be executed speedily,” said Kimmatkar.
Three decades of time lost in implementation has already escalated the project cost from Rs 1,042 crore to Rs 17,000 crore as per the administrative revision undertaken a year ago.
Of the total 2.25 lakh hectares that would get irrigation coverage in state from the project, around one lakh hectares are in Chandrapur. The Telangana and Maharashtra government have recently formed an interstate board for close co-ordination on the project.
“Large dams do take long time to build. But I am not sure if 25 years is justified or not. However, once the project gets all clearances and final approval, I will try to get it sped up,” said Union Minister of State for Home, Hansraj Ahir, who is also an MP from Chandrapur.
About 62 villages in Rajura segment of his constituency would stand to gain from the project.
“The project can qualify for national status and avail of Central funds,” Ahir added.