Beyond the glare, audits & reports, my report on how Maharashtra’s irrigation scam is ripping apart ordinary lives

Report which appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on October 7, 2014
Report which appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on October 7, 2014

Reena Bhure is taking down one brick of her house at a time. It is the house where she was born and lived till she got married. It is a house which will cease to exist by the time the election for the state of Maharashtra will take place.

It is house which will along with those of her entire village Pathri, will submerge into the infamous Gosikhurd dam, the symbol of the multi-crore Maharashtra irrigation scam, which claimed the head of the then Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, albeit for two months.

Apart from losing their land, these people have also lost their political utility, or so it seems.

“Till date, no political campaigning or other activity has taken place here and now only a week remains for the election. If someone dares to come here they will have to answer some tough questions. They know that and may be that is why nobody is showing up,” says Dharamraj Bhure, a villager.

The entire village claimed to have been collectively let down by the politicians and the system.

Away from the public glare, audits and scrutiny that followed the scam, Reena Bhure and others like her are what the government calls Project Affected Persons (PAPs).

After fighting for years for a better deal in terms of compensation and rehabilitation, they have given up. Pathri is among the last of villages which had resisted the dam’s expansion.

Now, it is inevitable. Villagers have claimed that the dam authorities were deploying psychological tactics to make them flee. “Every day they raise the level of water in the dam by 5cm. This means that more houses go under water,” Reena said.

When checked, irrigation department officials admitted, “They have accepted compensation and we want the villagers to get out and relocate themselves in the rehabilitation villages.”

On visiting the rehabilitated village of Pathri, a few kilometers away, basic amenities like water supply, electricity and drainage were found missing. Locals complained that despite repeated reminders and commitments from the administration, no improvement was seen.

Vrundan, a local activist said, “We have seen other villages too where people have been rehabilitated. The government has given them compensation but failed in providing the PAPs with either land or skill development as a result, people have no work.”

Dam stats
-11.23km dam length.
-Spread across Nagpur, Chandrapur and Bhandara districts.
-Announced in 1983 and 1989 the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched it  .
-Granted ‘National Project’ status in 2008.
-Original cost Rs.382 crore in 1983.
-While the Congress-NCP government  has been accused of irrigation scam, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti’s firm SMS Infrastructure has been one of the key contractors in the Gosikhurd project.

How the project failed
-Only reaches 55,000 hectares of the total 2,50,000 hectares of irrigated land targeted.
-Revised cost as on date, Rs.13500cr.
-Last deadline for full construction 2013.
-New deadline 2015.
-Dam level of 245m won’t be met before Dec 2015.
-85 villages submerged.

Troubles ahead
-Villagers not satisfied.
-Want rehab under National Rehabilitation Policy 2007.
-New land acquisition law makes process more difficult.
-Distribution network remains incomplete .

The alternative
Maharashtra BJP President Devendra Fadnavis, who hails from Nagpur, when asked stated, “Vidarbha is a problem of governance. The irrigation scam is an example. If voted to power, we will ensure time bound construction of dams because irrigation is a necessity if farmers have to earn better prices for their produce.”

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