Above: Irrigation official confronting the angry farmer from Asolamendha village in Chandrapur District of Maharashtra Photo: Amruta Pradhan
“Farmers are dying… but your procedures have to be complete…”
Sight of an angry farmer saying this to an irrigation official has stayed with me long after I returned from visit to Gosikhurd Right Bank Canal (RBC). More often than not, I, like many others have read and written about mighty Gosikhurd- that multi thousand crore irrigation project languishing incomplete for last 32 years. I was now seeing personification of the havoc wrecked by this poorly planned and even more poorly implemented project.
I was at the Asolamendha dam, tail end of Gosikhurd RBC. 30-40 farmers from nearby villages suffering because of the shoddy work of RBC had gathered with complaints at tip of their tongue. Nature of complaints was serious. This incomplete canal running a total length of 99.53 km from Gosikhurd Dam in Pauni Tehsil of Bhandara District to Asolamendha Dam in Nagbhid tehsil of Chandrapur District has not only failed to provide irrigation but is also destroying the catchment of the local water sources.
I was visiting Gosikhurd RBC as a part of Sinchan Shodh Yatra- a series of fact finding tours started since May 2015 by Jan Manch– a voluntary organization from Nagpur to uncover the shocking ground reality of corruption laden incomplete irrigation projects of Vidarbha region. The yatra that has visited 18 projects so far is being joined by more and more farmers who have suffered due to the poorly implemented, half done irrigation projects. It is becoming a platform for affected people to raise their voices and slowly emerging as a pressure group on irrigation officials. (Read more about Sinchan Shodh Yatra at https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/public-audits-of-corruption-ridden-irrigation-projects-in-vidarbha-sinchan-shodh-yatra/#more-15917)
Shodh yatra consisting of about 70 people had taken an inspection tour of Gosikhurd RBC which was proposed to irrigate command area of 64,362 Ha but has been incomplete since last decade. During its journey of 50 km length of RBC (from 45 km from Gosikhurd dam to Asolamendha) Shodh yatra witnessed stalled work of the main canal which has not resumed for past more than three years, farmers agitating over host of issues from incomplete branch canals to crop damage caused by breach of canals and irrigation officials offering more and more excuses.
‘Gosikhurd’ which was one of the most touted dam projects of VIDC called as ‘Bhakra Nangal of Vidarbha’[i] is far from completion after more than thirty years of its inception. While the cost has increased from Rs 372 Cr to Rs 18,404 Crores, the promised irrigation remains a distant dream. The Gosikhurd project across the Wainganga River in Godavari Basin, approved in 1982 was inaugurated in 1984 by Rajeev Gandhi and was supposed to be completed in 1987.[ii] The project declared as a National Irrigation Project by Central Government in 2009 and was planned to irrigate 2.50 lakh hectares in Bhandara, Chandrapur and Nagpur districts of Maharashtra with storage reservoir of 40.46 TMC capacity near Pauni in Bhandara district of Maharashtra, network of canals including a right bank canal of 99 km, a left bank canal of 24 km and four lift irrigation schemes — Tekepar, Nerla, Ambhora and Mokhabardi.[iii] It also included renovation of the existing Asolamendha tank.
Even after 30 years of initiating construction, the project has been a failure in terms of irrigation because of incomplete and inferior quality of canal networks and multiple pending issues including shoddy rehabilitation and resettlement of more than 100 affected villages, Forest Clearances, non-settlement of rights of fisherfolk, etc. Financial irregularities of the project were exposed during massive irrigation scam unveiled in 2012. The project has seen cost overrun of more than 4000% and is now being investigated by anti-corruption bureau (ACB).[iv] Jan Manch had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court in 2012 demanding a probe in cost escalations of 38 projects (including Gosikhurd) of VIDC. It was in response to this petition that the ACB inquiry was initiated by State Government in December 2014.
Gosikhurd project has been on forefront of the ACB inquiry as well as the ongoing PIL. So far two First Information Reports (FIRs) have been filed against the contractors of the project and 81 tenders related to the project have been cancelled by State Government.[v] High court recently sought response from VIDC about work audit of all irrigation projects to ascertain the quality of work done and amount spent so far.[vi] Court also passed strictures on laxity and casual approach displayed by ACB and VIDC.
Sinchan Shodh Yatra’s visit to RBC on September 11, 2016 was a follow up of visit conducted about a year and half ago. During the earlier visit on June 14, 2015 it turned out that the canal was partially filled with water upto only first 25 kms when officials had claimed that the work of RBC upto 99.53 kms was complete. Network of branch canals, distributaries and field canals to take water to farm lands was absent. From 30 kms to 43 kms, only one wall of the RBC was built.
The follow up visit was conducted to see if there has been any progress in work. The visit assumed importance because on July 13, 2016 VIDC has filed an affidavit in high court stating that the work of RBC has been complete & ready for delivery of water.[vii]
About 70 people, mostly from Jan Manch & few representatives of other organizations like Bapuji Aney Smarak Samiti, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran manch & Vidarbha Economic Development Council were accompanied by two VIDC officials A.J. Sangole & Sharad Sonkusare along with few representatives of print media.
As it turns out, there has been NO PROGRESS over RBC work in last one and half year.
Brief introduction to the Right Bank Canal
RBC running a total length of 99.53 km from Gosikhurd Dam in Pauni Tehsil of Bhandara District to Asolamendha Dam in Nagbhid tehsil of Chandrapur District was proposed to irrigate command area of 64,362 Ha. Construction of RBC was started in 2006 but has not been resumed since 2009. About 50% of distribution network has been built. Water was released in RBC for the first time in September 2015, nearly a decade after construction was started, shortly after Sinchan Shodh Yatra visit.[viii] Water was released again this year about a week before the shodh yatra. Though quantity remains unclear.
After year and half more than 50% of RBC still remains incomplete with departmental inquiry going on for many of its components.
The three tenders for which the ACB inquiry has been completed include the RBC project awarded to SMS Infrastructure, reports say it is associated with Ajay Sancheti- a BJP Member of Parliament, representing Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha.[ix]
VIDC officials under pressure have started work of sub canals & distributaries and are facing hard time acquiring land. Villagers are reluctant to give away their land because they have not seen water in RBC for past decade and refuse to believe that water will ever touch the distribution network.
Glimpses of Sinchan Shodh Yatra visit to Gosikhurd RBC are presented below:
- Incomplete cross regulator cum escape
First spot that the yatra visited was an under-construction regulator-cum-escape gate located at 46 km on RBC from Gosikhurd dam. This escape gate has been proposed to control and divert the water flow of canal to a neighboring nallah if there is no water demand from the command. Construction of this gate has been stalled since 2009. Water was released in this canal for the first time in September 2015 (quantity remains unclear). For this purpose four pipelines of about 1000 mm dia have been laid through this 200m incomplete portion of the gate. The site which has been abandoned for quite a while is in bad shape.
Few people from Dudhwai- a nearby village showed up at the visit. They were complaining that portion of road connecting Dudhwai to Brahmapuri which runs parallel to the canal has no parapet wall. There have been incidences of vehicles falling in canal. Brahmapuri division of VIDC has taken no action even when villagers have raised this issue. VIDC officials asked them to submit a formal request.
- Damaged aqueduct
Next spot was an incomplete aqueduct located at about 48 km on RBC. In 2012 with just 400 mm rainfall, filling between the aqueduct and the unlined patch of canal was washed away and water gushed in the adjoining fields. The Executive Engineer from VIDC A.J. Sangole blamed the ‘natural calamity’ for the damage. After it was rectified, the same incidence was repeated 2014 when VIDC released water into the canal for testing. Thereafter it has not been repaired.
When people from shodh yatra demanded explanation Ex. Engineer Sangole only said that “It took us four years to understand what went wrong. Now a fresh tender worth Rs. 14.9 Cr. has been issued for this work and the work will be completed in next four months.” He also mentioned that departmental inquiry has been going on for this matter.
- Distributaries started without completing main canal
Even when the construction of the RBC main canal has been stopped since 2009 the work for sub canals, distributaries, minors & sub minors from 30 km on RBC onwards has been started since last two years!
638 Ha Land from 5 villages is being acquired for distributaries. According to the VIDC officials land acquisition is facing problems. Shodh yatra visited B3 Branch canal of RBC where land acquisition has been going on.
This construction seems to be in violation of Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. In July 2014 VIDC had applied for diversion of additional forest area of 119 ha for construction of canal network and distribution system from 51 km to 99 km of RBC. As admitted by VIDC a separate proposal had to be submitted for these 119 Ha because detailed alignment survey of canal network distribution system was not carried out for the original proposal of RBC. ‘In-principle’ forest clearance has been granted by Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) subject to documentary evidence of settlement of rights under Forest Rights Act 2006 and obtaining environmental clearance under Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 among total 31 conditions.[x] The letter from Forest Clearance (FC) division of MoEFCC dated January 06, 2015 clearly states that “The transfer of forest land to the user agency shall not be affected by the State Government till formal orders approving the diversion of forest land are issued by the Central Government.” Construction cannot be started unless the final forest clearance has been granted.
According to VIDC officials the water seen in the distributaries is the water released from the dam however local villagers say that it is the heavy downpour of previous two days experienced by the region.
- 23 km of canal still incomplete
Near Bhuj village in Brahmapuri tehsil of Chandrapur District a 23 km stretch of RBC main canal between 30 km to 90 km is incomplete.
The canal that was excavated a decade back has no lining till date. Work is stalled since 2009. “Contractor left the job incomplete” was the only explanation offered by Ex. Engineer A.J. Sangole of VIDC. “Proposal for the work has been pending with the State Government for last three years.” said Sangole. “The cost of the work was estimated 125% more than the tender. It thus needs approval from the State Government and the same has been pending for three years.” Adv Anil Kilor, President of Jan Manch told SANDRP. When Jan Manch volunteers started asking why does it take 10 years to complete just 23 km of canal Sangole said “Even Sardar Sarovar Canals had such problems. Many of them have even collapsed. We had to undergo a special training from Sardar Sarovar Authorities. We will be using that technology here.”
This region is buffer zone of Tadoba Wildlife sanctuary and sees a regular tiger movement. Villager Maruti Manaskule informed that there are 20 tigers in the region.
Status of Wildlife Clearance for these canals is not clear.
The last stop of Shodh Yatra was Asolamendha dam. This spot saw a large gathering of local people with various complaints.
Their complaints reveal the ad-hoc manner in which RBC canal has been executed. VIDC officials found it difficult to pacify the angry farmers. Many of them had approached VIDC offices but received no reply.
Khushal Lode along with few others from Usarpar village complained about a sub canal that has breached near their village since last two years. They have submitted a request at VIDC office a year ago (on September 13, 2015) but got no response from VIDC. Finally villagers spent Rs. 1.5 lakh from their own pocket and repaired it partially.
The group was angry and Ex. Eng from VIDC was visibly uncomfortable with the confrontation. When asked about what action has VIDC taken regarding this issue Sangole explained that VIDC has sent a notice to the contractor to bear the cost of retrofitting.
The villagers said “Why can’t VIDC first repair the canal and then recover the cost from contractor?” Sangole denied saying VIDC cannot bypass the procedure. An angry villager then said in dismay “Farmers are dying but your procedures have to be complete…”
Few villagers from Jankapur & Borgaon were complaining that their village tank has dried after construction of sub canal. They said that their tank used to fill up after monsoon but has dried since construction of nearby sub canal. Canal seems to have cut the natural catchment for this tank. Similar is the case for villages like Moshi, Toregaon, Dugnara etc. These villages from the tail end of canal (last 20 km stretch) have been facing this issue. VIDC official tried to pacify farmers saying that they will receive water soon.
Adv. Govind Bhendarkar of Gosikhurd Prakalp Sangharsh Samiti (GPSS) told SANDRP “The main canal is incomplete so water cannot be released with full capacity. Without completing it VIDC has been constructing sub canals & distributaries. How will they receive any water? The project has provided no water and has instead destroyed local water resources.”
Krishna Yadav a villager from Mudjha complained that the sub canal near their village is incomplete. Their village tank is only 500m from the sub canal. If VIDC just connects these two with a small feeder canal filling the tank then 600 Ha can be irrigated through the tank. VIDC official promised to cooperate on this issue.
Villagers from Jankapur & Saykheda complained that they have not received compensation for their land acquired for distributaries.
Two villages on periphery of Asolamendha dam viz. Asolamendha & Sawangi (Dixit) will be submerged if monsoon flows from RBC are diverted to the dam. Even when there is nearly no water in the canal, water level in the dam often reaches the villages. Angry farmers from the villages were complaining “Our village, our land is getting affected. At least acquire the land legally and give us compensation!”
Shodh Yatra concluded with Jan Manch representatives assuring the farmers that Jan Manch will look into their complaints and extend all the help needed.
VIDC affidavit stands falsified
After repeatedly reminded by High Court an affidavit was filed on behalf of State Government and signed by the VIDC officer in June 2016. The affidavit however strategically remained silent on the allegations of shoddy work, incomplete work, tweaking of rules to favour politically connected contractors. The court passed strictures saying that VIDC on affidavit made an outlandish claim that 6,23,083 hectare irrigation potential has been created without uttering a word of remorse for the huge loss caused to public exchequer due to totally arbitrary and unjustified cost-escalation.
It is unfortunate that even after being bashed by the court the fresh affidavit filed by VIDC is as casual. It states that the work of RBC has been complete & ready for delivery of water through it. And immediately bellow it states that the repair work of aqueduct at 46 km on RBC and lining of 23 km stretch of RBC is in progress. In reality however no work is in progress on site. Adv. Kilor of Jan Manch who has filed the PIL told SANDRP “Since we have started with shodh yatra we could verify the affidavit in this case. Otherwise there is no system to verify if the affidavits filed in the court are valid.”
It has been 32 years since Gosikhurd project has been languishing incomplete! Till now more than Rs 8000 Cr have been spent on the project with another Rs 10,000 Cr needed. There are no authentic figures available about exactly how much area is presently irrigated through the project. Though VIDC says that it will complete the project in three years, that looks entirely unrealistic. 81 tenders of this project have been cancelled and the retendering process will cause further delay. It is also worth pointing that approval for completion of 23 km of canal is pending for three years now.
Even if the remaining canal stretches are completed releasing water with full capacity will be difficult. After water was released in 2015 canal breach and leakages were observed at many places. “Quality of canal network built is so poor that hardly any water will reach the tail end farmers.” says Adv. Kilor of Jan Manch.
It seems everyone including irrigation officials and the government is clueless about tackling this ‘white elephant’ which has consumed so much of public resources, affected thousands of people and one of the best wildlife and forest areas of the country, without achieving most of the promised benefits till date.
(All photos by author)
Amruta Pradhan SANDRP, firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] TOI (2015): “Everything going wrong for Gosikhurd right bank canal”, Shishir Arya, Times of India, June 15, 2015
[ii] The Hindu (2012): “Panel showed up Gosikhurd cracks even 2 years ago”, Meena Menon, The Hindu Oct 07 2012
[iii] VIDC (2016): Affidavit submitted in VIDC in Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court during PIL no 12/2016 on July 13, 2016
[iv] TOI (2015): “Maharashtra government orders probe into cost overruns of Vidarbha dams”, Chittaranjan Tembhekar, Times of India, April 01, 2015
[v] First Post (2016): “Setback for Ajit Pawar: Maharashtra cancels tenders of irrigation projects worth Rs 6,000 cr”, FP Staff, August 30, 2016
[vi] The Hitwada (2016): “HC seeks progree report in irrigation scam probe”, The Hitwada, June 10, 2016
[vii] VIDC (2016): Affidavit submitted in VIDC in Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court on July 13, 2016
[viii] TOI (2015): “Water released in Gosikhurd right bank canal”, Mazar Ali, Shishir Arya, Times of India, September 11, 2015
[ix] Hindustan Times (2016): “Vidarbha Irrigation Probe will be completed in six months: ACB”, Hindustan Times, march 04, 2016
[x] GoI (2015): Letter no. F.No. 08-52/2014-FC from Forest Clearance (FC) division of Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) dated January 06, 2015