Rajasthan: What stops Centre from declaring ERCP a national project?

The Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) envisages to connect 11 rivers of eastern Rajasthan and irrigate 2 lakh hectare new area spread over 13 districts

Rajasthan: What stops Centre from declaring ERCP a national project?

Prakash Bhandari

The Rajasthan government’s ambitious Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) may bring a ‘sea’ change in the lives of thousands of farmers in this desert state. But for the politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had even promised togive it the status of a national project and make budgetary allocations for it in 2018. Development projects granted this status are provided financial assistance by the Union Government that may go up to 90% of the estimated cost of such projects.

However, recently during an eventin Jaipur, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat claimed the PM had made no such promise. This led to a heated exchange between Shekhawat and Rajasthan minister Mahesh Joshi. Shekhawat stunned the audience by asking Joshi to prove that the Prime Minister had made any such promise.The Union minister even went on to say that if proven wrong, he would quit politics.

After the arguments the seminar became bitter and by the evening the state government produced two videos of July 7, 2018, and October 6, 2018, in which the Prime Minister is shown delivering speeches during in which he had indeed made such promises.

Shekhawat, nevertheless, looked in a mood to go by his words and quit politics! Later, Shekhawat later claimed that CM Ashok Gehlot and state water resources minister Mahendra Jeet Singh Malviya did not give time for a review meet on the ERCP. “Both were invited for an important meeting scheduled in advance. But it appeared they had more important work than ERCP,” the Union minister said at a press conference.

The ruling Congress has decried the apathy of the Union government towards this irrigation project and would likely make it a major political issue when the state goes to polls next year. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Union Minister Shekhawat, both of whom hail fromJodhpur, have been involved in a war of words with Gehlot slamming Shekhawat for not helping his home state by getting the project cleared from the Centre despite being the Jal Shakti minister.

Gehlot tweeted, “When 16 projects in other states can be granted ‘national project’ status, it is beyond everyone to understand why an irrigation project in a desert state like Rajasthan grappling with low water table and no perennial rivers be granted the national status.”

Gehlot pointed out that ERCP should be granted the status of a national project as it would also cater to the industrial units to be set up under the ambitious Japanese-aided Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. A large part of the DMIC comes under Rajasthan and this canal apart from irrigating two lakh hectares would have also catered to the needs of the industrial units.

Besides writing several letters to the PM on the topic, Gehlot had urged all the 25 members of Lok Sabha, who all are from BJP, to lobby for the state and pressurize the Centre for the approval of the project.

What is interesting is that the project initially prepared by the Gehlot government was subsequently taken up by the Vasundhara Raje’s BJP government which in the year 2017 submitted a plan to the Central Water Commission. But even with a BJP-led government at the Centre, the project till today is waiting for the approval of the Union government.

What is ERCP?

ERCP is an ambitious mega project of Rajasthan to transfer surplus water at the Chambal basin to Banas, Morel, Banganga, Kalisindh, Gambhir and Parbati river sub-basin. In a way, its project is to connect the 11 rivers of eastern Rajasthan. After this inter-linking of the small rivers, 13 districts of the state comprising Jhalawar, Baran, Kota, Bundi, Sawaimadhopur, Ajmer, Tonk, Jaipur, Dausa, Karauli, Alwar, Bharatpur, and Dholpur will not only get drinking water but also water for irrigation.

The ERCP will also augment the yield in 26 major and medium irrigation projects and will rejuvenate 0.80 lakh hectares of existing command areas. This will transform the agriculture, and agricultural practices and thus help in bringing about a massive change in the living standards of the people of eastern Rajasthan.

Rajasthan is the biggest state of the country in terms of area, but a large part of it is covered under the desert.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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