Maharashtra Economic Survey Report: For fifth year, govt skirts irrigation controversy

Maharashtra Economic Survey Report: For fifth year, govt skirts irrigation controversy

While still in Opposition, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was a vocal opponent of the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government’s move of omitting details regarding the utilisation of actual irrigation potential from the Economic Survey Report (ESR).

Now in power, the Fadnavis government, too, has been skirting the issue, which had rocked the previous regime.

In the ESR 2011-12, a mention that the actual irrigation potential in the state had risen from 17.8 per cent in 2000-01 to just 17.9 per cent in 2010-11 had resulted in a flashpoint between the Congress and the NCP, which eventually saw then Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar stepping down from his ministerial positions.

The NCP-controlled Water Resources Department had contested the statistic arguing that while counting the irrigation potential and the irrigated area had not accounted for irrigation by water released in wells, rivers, and nullahs in a dam’s command area. But the Congress-led Agriculture department had backed the ESR’s contention, arguing that indirect benefits to wells and nullahs in a command area could not be regarded as irrigation.

The previous regime was forced to issue a white paper. The BJP, then the principal Opposition, was able to leverage the controversy to level allegations of a multi-crore scam in dam construction. While Pawar was later reinducted into the Cabinet, he continues to face the allegations.

After coming to power, the BJP government has been backing the NCP’s contention, and supporting the Water Resources department’s contention over the irrigated area.

But for the fifth consecutive year, it has omitted mentioning details of the gross irrigated area created since 2000-01.

Senior state officials admitted that there was a need for conducting a joint survey involving the irrigation, agriculture, and the revenue departments.

On the basis of a report from the chief auditor, water and irrigation, Aurangabad, the ESR 2018-19 has claimed that the gross irrigated area 39.50 lakh hectare, which included areas irrigated by wells in the command area.

Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, when asked, said that based on the recommendations of a special inquiry team (appointed by the previous regime to look into the controversy), various committees and sub-committees had been formed to decided the further line of action. The BJP government has been claiming that there has been a sharp rise in irrigation potential since it won office in 2014.