The Maharashtra government’s much-awaited white paper on irrigation projects, presented by the water resources department before the state cabinet on Thursday, turned out to be a damp squib. Forget laying the blame for alleged irregularities, it was a mere compilation of the status of irrigation projects undertaken by the state.
The opposition has dubbed it a whitewash. It, along with whistleblowers, who had alleged financial irregularities in these projects, had sought that the white paper have details of time and cost overruns in irrigation projects, mobilisation advances granted out of turn to contractors, tenders awarded at inflated rates and wasteful expenditures.
The controversy began after the state’s economic survey claimed that irrigated land in the state had risen by just 0.1% to 17.9% in 2010 despite the government having spent Rs70,000 crore on irrigation projects in 10 years.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had mooted the idea of a white paper this May, citing the poor performance of irrigation projects.
The presentation has debunked the claim of a dismal increase in irrigated land, stating that the production of onion, cotton, grapes, oranges and sugarcane had not been accounted for. “It says the rise in irrigated area is 5.17% (from 2001 to 2010),” said irrigation minister Sunil Tatkare. He added that if the diversion of water for non-irrigation purposes, like drinking water (75-80%), industrial use and power plants is considered, the figure would have touched 6.5%.
The water diverted for non-irrigation purposes could otherwise have been used to irrigate 2.85 lakh hectare of land