RTI shows long delays, rising costs in irrigation projects

While the charges against then NCP minister Ajit Pawar may have forced the Maharashtra government to release a white paper on its delayed irrigation projects, an RTI reply shows that 120 of the 159 projects cleared under the central Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) across the country are running behind their original schedule. In case of 91 of them, costs have escalated ó in some cases, going up 10 times.

The programme fixes four years as the deadline to complete a project, with every delay needing an explanation to the Planning Commission, following which it releases funds.

In response to an RTI application filed by The Indian Express, the Ministry of Water Resources informed that the original estimated cost of the 91 delayed AIBP projects was Rs 23,674 crore, which is now up to Rs 83,306 crore. All these costs are the AIBP share in the project. Besides, the state governments concerned put in money.

Maharashtra tops the list of 91 delayed projects that have seen a sharp cost escalation (17), while Madhya Pradesh has 12 such projects and Orissa 10.

Though the delay in the Northeast and Jammu-Kashmir projects is frequent due to insurgency-related problems, it is common in other states too.

Most of the districts affected because of the delay are drought-affected or poorly irrigated areas across 20 states where farmers are already facing multiple problems.

The white paper on irrigation in Maharashtra itself has turned out to be a damp squib. Expected to expose alleged irregularities and fix responsibility, the report has instead highlighted the fact that projects entailed lower costs and contract rates when compared to those in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat.

Ajit Pawar had resigned in September over allegations of irregularities in irrigation projects when he was the Maharashtra water resources and finance minister.

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