By Sanjay Jog
A petition on the multi-crore irrigation scam in Maharashtra is expected to come up for hearing this week at the Nagpur bench of the high court.
Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), nodal agency for 38 irrigation projects in the region, would have filed an affidavit explaining its stand on issues relating to cost escalation, time overrun and irregularities in project implementation.
Advocate Anil Kilor, member of Jan Manch, the body which had filed the petition, told Business Standard, “The high court had given six weeks to VIDC for its affidavit. We will make arguments based on it and also based on additional information gathered by us.”
Jan Manch’s petition had argued that within seven months in 2009, the cost of the 38 projects escalated from Rs 6,672 crore to Rs 26,722 crore. As many as 30 of the 38 projects were granted hurried approvals in just four days. Their cost went up with the revised administrative approval. The cost of six rose between six-fold times to 33 times their original cost. In the case of 12, the cost went up more than twice the original estimates.
For instance, revised administrative approval for the Lower Wardha project was granted on Independence Day, a national holiday. The cost was revised to Rs 2,356 crore from Rs 950 crore by the VIDC executive director on that day.
On June 24, 2009, VIDC issued 10 revised administrative approvals for the Vaisawali, Lonwadi, Dagadparwa and Dava minor irrigation schemes, and larger projects such as Human Nadi, Kharbadi K T Weir, Jigaon, Khadak Purna, Pentakali and Chandrabhaga. Once these were granted, VIDC hurriedly invited tenders for all the 38 projects. These approvals were given by then executive director Devendra Shirke.
VIDC said the costs were revised because of changes in price levels, higher quotes by contractors, increase in the cost of land acquisition, engineering changes and other reasons.
The HC hearing would coincide with the state government’s ongoing inquiry against 45 VIDC officials, retired and serving. These include six chief engineers, eight superintending engineers and 31 executive engineers. Seven of them have retired. Water resources secretary Devendra Shirke, former VIDC executive director, has been transferred.
The state government is also in the midst of preparing an official paper on the sector. While the ruling Congress has argued that a mere 0.1 per cent of irrigation potential was added during a decade, despite expenditure of Rs 70,000 crore, co-partner Nationalist Congress Party claims the rise was 27 per cent.