Serious question marks over the SIT under Dr. Chitale

Pradeep Purandare, Retd. Associate Professor, Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad writes about the basic problems and limitations of the Special Investigation Team, under the Chairpersonship of Dr. Madhav Chitale, constituted by the Govenrment of Maharashtra to investigate the unprecedented Irrigation Scam in Maharashtra

Maharashtra’s infamous irrigation scam highlighted the agonizing state of Maharashtra’s water sector exposing the establishment, the government, the engineers and the numerous “Vikas-purush” who pulled irrigation projects (and not water!) for their constituencies. Drought that followed the scam highlighted the far reaching impacts of playing irresponsibly with water and rivers. Even the fraudulent White Paper on Irrigation Projects could not quell the huge discontent generated by the scam. Very reluctantly, state government constituted “Special Investigation Team” (SIT) on 31st December 2012, on the last day of such a commitment. The team was supposed to submit its report to the government within 6 months, i.e. till 30th June 2013. The committee has not submitted its report yet. Instead, it has asked for an extension of 6 months to the government which has been granted with alacrity. Thus, the Chitale committee has now become a “twelve monthly” committee, like the sugarcane which completes its cycle in 12 months! But looking at the constitution and the real motive behind forming this committee, it will not be surprising if this committee follows the eighteen month cycle like sugarcane in the state! In fact, looking at the remuneration and allowances given to the committee, it will not be a surprise if it even becomes perennial!

According to a leading Marathi Daily dealing with issues related to agriculture, (11th May2013), Dr. Chitale receives a remuneration of Rs. 1.50 Lakhs per month as the chair of the committee, while other members receive Rs. 1.25 lakh per month, with travel and related allowances being paid separately. Considering these details, I remember a washing powder ad, “Daag acche hai!!” In this context, it will be important to know exactly when officials like Dr. Chitale and Mr. Ranade retired, how many committees they worked on and how much of remuneration did they earn meanwhile. This information must also be made public.

Significantly, it cannot be forgotten that “Sinchan Sahayog,” [SS] an organization closely related with Chitale has been receiving tremendous government patronage since its conception. There has been a separate government resolution issued to facilitate government officers attending events organized by SS. Its office is in government premises at Aurangabad. All correspondences for SS take place through Godavari Khore’s e-mail id. Many government officers are office holders and/ or active members in SS. The questions like- whether government facilities are being used for programs organized by SS, whether the officers guilty of corruption/ scams are/ were part of SS, and whether SS receives government grants – are unanswered despite me raising them in a  reputed newspaper (27th March 2013).

As an illustrious Engineer, Dr. Chitale is not known to have taken any position against corruption/ scandals and misuse of post/ power. In fact, other officers of Water Resource Department – like Shri. Mendhegiri, Shri.Kulkarni, Shri.Vandere, Shri.Upase etc. – who do not get attention like Chitale but are equally capable, have already highlighted engineering defects, gross corruption and serious issues about several projects through their reports. Keeping this in the context, what more can the SIT achieve? The only implicit mandate of the team seems to be to buy time and eventually justify the white paper. Dr. Chitale’s response, “Investigating any allegations does not fall under the mandate of the SIT” in response to a demand by opposition leader, Mr. Tawde, speaks volumes about the committee.

Immense corruption, intentional irregularities, and misuse of power have been the hallmarks of the irrigation scam. Most allegations are quite serious and do not only limit themselves to engineering related issues. Transparency, public participation and accountability are totally missing in Maharashtra’s water resource development and management policies. Inclusiveness and participation have been consciously sidelined. There has been too much of engineering arrogance in such policies. Adjustments and impractical conditions accepted by so called vanguards of economic development – just to push the project forward- are now back-firing. Adamant “supply side management” rationale of increasing water availability at any cost as well as criminal and blatant neglect towards “demand side management” involving equitable, efficient water distribution underline our pathetic water management. We are experiencing the cumulative impacts of this approach. Overemphasis on supply side management has been one of the main drivers of the irrigation scam and Dr. Chitale has been a staunch supporter of such supply side management. Keeping this in mind, what investigation would he indulge in?

Despite knowing very well that Maharashtra WRD does not measure either the exact volume of water used or the actual area irrigated, Dr. Chitale believes that the same department has been successful in publishing – with fraudulent figures of- water audit, benchmarking and status of irrigation report. While speaking to a newspaper on 6th July 2012 Dr. Chitale said, “WRD’s records of the area irrigated are based on water-bills and hence, compared to Revenue, and Agriculture department, Water Resource Department’s data are more reliable”. It would be appropriate that I objected the same statement on 7th July 2012.

“To verify the created irrigation potential & actual area irrigated and water used for non-irrigation purposes; to study the details of area irrigated (such as area irrigated on wells, farm ponds & that irrigated by Water Conservation Department & WRD) and to find out reasons behind less area irrigated” constitutes the very first point of Chitale committee’s mandate. The committee is yet to submit even its interim report. It will, therefore, be interesting to see which statistics in this regard have been used & reported by Chitale Committe to Kelkar Committee.[1] Dr. Chitale is member of Kelkar Committee too. If the data furnished by WRD has been simply passed on to Committees without unbiased and fair checking, then it is a serious matter & may adversely affect the reports of both the committees. This point needs to be clarified by all concerned.

Water audit for 2009-10 was published in 2011. I raised some critical objections to the report and the figures published under it. The WRD did not clarify these points. However, there has been no water audit, benchmarking and irrigation status reports published since then!

Maharashtra Water Resource Development Centre (MWRDC) is said to be helping SIT in daily technical matters. MWRDC had been publishing water audit and benchmarking reports for many years without measuring water used and actual irrigated area. Many experts say privately that the MWRDC did not cooperate with Kulkarni Committee which was constituted to investigate barrages on GodavariRiver. Kulkarni Committee reportedly has mentioned this fact in its report.

Above details are part of the current reality of water management in Maharashtra. However, complications in the situation are because of another reason too. Dr. Chitale has been a proponent of a certain school of thought and he has seldom concealed his political inclination. His opinions and actions bear a special strategic meaning. In fact, he appears to behave as if he is on a mission of his parent organization. Against this backdrop, his constant tie-up with ruling class for shaping its water policies while keeping close links with opposition party warrant a detailed political analysis. What is he suggesting? What are his two recent comments pointing at?

7th Annual Marathwada Janata Vikas Parishad was organized on 21st April 2013 at Aurangabad. As an inaugural speaker, Dr. Chitale said, “Our decisions are going wrong because our water discourse is clouded by the dark shadow of agriculture”

Dr. Chitale specially guided industrialists during water management conference organized by Confederation of Indian Industries on 27th June 2013, again in Aurangabad. He said, “Considering the economic growth due to agriculture (4%), industry (8%) & service sector (15%) parallel weightage to all sectors is required.” (Times of India, Aurangabad, 28 June 2013)

Treating water as an economic commodity and referring to agriculture as a ‘dark shadow’ bears disastrous implications for farmers in the state. It underlines the hidden mandate that the Chitale committee is following. Keeping irrigation projects incomplete and transferring water from agriculture to industries seems to be a strategy. It is important to keep a keen watch on the SIT under Dr. Chitale’s chairpersonship (and even Kelkar committee for that matter), its credibility has many question marks already. The issues range beyond corruption.

[Edited Marathi version of this article is published in Divya Marathi (all editions) on 6th July 2013.

Translated by Damodar Pujari, SANDRP, with the permission and approval from the author.)

[1] Kelkar Committee, Headed by former finance secretary Vijay Kelkar, was appointed in May 2011 by Government of Maharashtra to analyse regional development imbalance, especially for regions like Vidarbha, Marathwada and Konkan which are lagging behind in terms of irrigation facilities, road network and spread of education and health infrastructure as compared to regions of Maharashtra.

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