Investigation

CAG detects cost overrun of ₹1.20 lakh crore in irrigation projects, water theft from Narmada

A CAG report puts the combined cost overrun of irrigation projects at ₹1.20 lakh Crore and finds fictitious expenditure, water theft and funds parked in banks

Ashlin Mathew

It does seem like the Water Resources ministry is besieged by projects that overshoot the budget, period of completion and there seems to un-checked misuse of funds too. Is the water ministry listening or is it also hand-in-glove with such misappropriation?

In the Comptroller and Auditor General of India report released on January 8, 2019, the combined cost overrun of irrigation projects was ₹1,20,772.05 crore which was 295% of their original aggregate cost of ₹40,943.68 crore. The extent of cost overrun in individual projects ranged between ₹4.40 crore to ₹48,366.88 crore.

Though guidelines state that grants should be utilised only for programmes approved, a check of project records however, revealed instances of diversion of funds amounting to ₹1,578.55 crore in 13 states.

The CAG report highlighted that in the years 2014-15 and 2015-16, Gujarat government under Anandiben Patel diverted ₹213.17 crore meant for irrigation to power projects and Canal Top Solar Power Plant despite the Central Water Commission excluding power projects from funding under Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP). Though funds were diverted for an ineligible item, incorrect utilisation certificates were furnished without highlighting the same to the ministry.

In Upper Tunga project (Priority-I) in Karnataka, an amount of ₹98 lakh was withdrawn between 06 June 2014 and 23 July 2014 through five forged cheques. Though an amount of ₹51 lakh was recovered, ₹47 lakh had not been recovered as of December 2016

With Gujarat, the Central water ministry has been extremely lax. The ministry released funds amounting to amounting to ₹166.66 crore for the FY 2016-17 even before the bills were submitted. When asked, the ministry in 2018 explained that

“Expenditure on repairs and maintenance of canal, branches, and distributaries are not permissible from funds received under AIBP. However, ₹ 234 crore incurred on repairs and maintenance of the Canal network was booked by the project authorities during April 2010 to March 2017 under AIBP,” stated the CAG report and added that the project authorities accepted that expenditure on power projects were inadvertently booked under AIBP.

That is not all. There have been an increasing number of water theft cases from Narmada Canal Project. The compulsory pressure irrigation was adopted by using sprinklers or drip. It was observed that the Narmada Main Canal and its distributaries and minors suffered due to water theft by nearby cultivators who illegally lifted water from canals to irrigate their fields by using motor pumps.

To prove that the government did attempt to remove illegal motor pumps and seize pipes from the Narmada main canal, a campaign was stated to have been launched on April 28 2016. However, the CAG auditors observed that no such campaign was undertaken for checking withdrawal of water from distributaries and minors, although these were also facing the problem of water theft.

In Assam, the Branch Canal B3M on the Dhansiri Irrigation Project has been lying idle ever since the damage caused due to flash floods between 1980-81. It was recorded that that repair and restoration works were executed besides concrete lining works at a total cost of ₹28.68 lakh. However, on visiting the canal, it was found that there was no noticeable canal system and the concrete lining was in the canal system in the reported area. “This indicates that expenditure of Rs 28.68 lakh was against fictitious works,” stated the CAG report.

In Upper Tunga project (Priority-I) in Karnataka, an amount of ₹98 lakh was withdrawn between 06 June 2014 and 23 July 2014 through five forged cheques. Though an amount of ₹51 lakh was recovered, ₹47 lakh had not been recovered as of December 2016.

In the case of Durgawati and Punpun projects in Bihar, the state government did not release funds for the land acquired. Even though possession of 96 and 86% of land respectively had been given to the State government, compensation released was only 72 and 42%. Consequently, an amount of ₹128.60 crore remained unspent and parked in the bank.

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Published: 15 Jan 2019, 9:23 AM