Controversy

Maharashtra's Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan: A failed scheme

Print edition : August 27, 2021

Devendra Fadnavis at a function organised in connection with the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan at Wardha in Maharashtra on May 5, 2017. Photo: PTI

An inquiry committee finds irregularities in the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ water conservation scheme for Maharashtra’s drought-affected villages.

ONE of the first decisions the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, constituting a coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), took after coming to power in November 2019 was to stay the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan, a water conservation scheme the previous government launched in 2014, and initiate an investigation into the irregularities in the scheme. The Congress, which was in the opposition when the scheme was launched, had charged the Devendra Fadnavis government with corruption in its implementation.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its report submitted in September 2020 after examining the works in some of the villages, suggested further inquiry. On July 22, the four-member inquiry committee set up by the MVA government in December 2020 submitted its report. The committee recommended that 1,000 projects taken up under the scheme should be investigated by the State Anti-Corruption Bureau. The committee was headed by Vijay Kumar, former Additional Chief Secretary. The additional Director General of Police (Anti-Corruption Bureau) and two officials from the Water Conservation Department formed part of the committee.

The Fadnavis government launched the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan in December 2014. The scheme envisaged widening of streams, and digging nullahs and channels and connecting them to the streams, and constructing bunds and ponds for water storage and recharge of groundwater. The scheme was Fadnavis’ pet project.

Before 2014, Maharashtra had suffered four consecutive droughts. The State’s water management techniques had come under criticism, and the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan was Fadnavis’ response. The idea behind the scheme was laudable. About 82 per cent of the State depends on rain-fed agriculture; a season of low rainfall means low agricultural output. About 52 per cent of the State lies in drought-prone areas where rainfall is scanty. When the scheme was launched, 23,811 villages in 26 districts were officially declared drought affected. In the first phase (2015-19), the scheme aimed at making 5,000 drought-prone villages water sufficient. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government proposed to make 25,000 such villages free of drought.
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By the beginning of 2019, the Fadnavis government claimed that more than 11,000 villages were drought free. At a media conference held then, it was announced that water storage capacities had increased to 1.6 lakh trillion cubic metres. About 20 lakh hectares of land had benefited from irrigation because of the scheme which, in turn, meant that agricultural productivity in these areas had gone up by 30 to 50 per cent. The number of water tankers employed in these areas had fallen from 6,140 to 1,666.

‘Go to the root of the corruption’

Sachin Sawant, general secretary and spokesperson of the State Pradesh Congress Committee, said that since “the inquiry committee has confirmed corruption in the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyaan, there was a need to go to the root of the corruption”.

He said: “The report has recommended 900 cases for inquiry through the Anti-Corruption Bureau and 100 cases for departmental inquiry.” Neither the means nor the objective of the scheme was ever realised because “it was embroiled in corruption since 2015 and had become a lucrative magnet for BJP cronies and contractors close to the party”, he said.

Giving details, Sawant said: “All the claims made by the Fadnavis government about this scheme were hollow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had praised the scheme, saying that 16,000 villages had become drought free following the implementation of the scheme and that another 9,000 villages were on the verge of becoming drought free. Within eight days, the then government was forced to declare these so-called drought-free villages as drought-affected villages.

“Despite spending around Rs.10,000 crore on the Jalyukta Shivar scheme, more than 7,000 tankers had to be used to supply water to the State in May 2019. According to the 2018 Groundwater Survey and Development Agency report, the groundwater level in 13,984 villages spread over 252 talukas had decreased by more than 1 metre, and according to the same report, the water level in 31,015 villages had gone down.

“Despite this, the Fadnavis government continued to praise the scheme to keep the interest of the contractors alive. Hundreds of crores of rupees were wasted on fake advertisements such as ‘I am the beneficiary’ in which BJP workers were also shown as beneficiaries.
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“The Congress had pointed out that the Jalyukta Shivar scheme was an abject failure; showing that the works in the scheme were done in an unscientific manner and that the excavator machines used in the works only dug pits that stored sludge instead of water. Many works had not been audited.”

In February 2020, a few months after assuming charge as the Minister for Water Resources in the MVA government, Jayant Patil talked about “substandard work” carried out in Jalyukta Shivar projects. This was within a year of Fadnavis’ announcement that 16,000 villages had benefited from the scheme. Fadnavis claimed that irrigation cover had been increased by 34 lakh hectares and an additional 24 lakh trillion cubic metres of water had been utilised because of interventions from the scheme. He added that the crop yield, especially of the kharif crop, had gone up.

Discrepancies

In February 2020, the MVA pointed out a minimum of 1,300 “discrepancies” in the scheme. These included charges of corruption and substandard work. The government had done its homework and even Fadnavis was forced to accept its findings. The NCP and the Congress alleged that Jalyukta Shivar funds worth Rs.200 crore had been misappropriated. An Anti-Corruption Bureau investigation was sought and all funding to the scheme was halted.

The MVA’s stand was bolstered by the CAG report, which was tabled in the State legislature in September 2020. The report stated that despite spending Rs.9,633.75 crore, the scheme had “little impact in achieving water neutrality and increasing ground water level”. It went on to state that there was “a lack of transparency” during the construction process and poor monitoring by the State’s Water Conservation Department.

According to the report, the scheme targeted 22,586 villages, undertaking a total of 6.41 lakh construction works. Of these, 6.3 lakh works, that is 98 per cent, were completed at a cost of Rs.9,633.75 crore. But during the audit, it was found that in 83 of the 120 villages selected for the study, the storage created was insufficient to meet the village’s water requirement for drinking and irrigation. In 37 of the 83 villages, the shortage was owing to lower storage capacity created than planned. In the remaining villages, the shortfall was more than 20 per cent.

The CAG observed: “The reasons for the shortfall were curiously absent from the relevant reports and were not ascertained by district authorities, defeating the objective of drought-free villages.”

The CAG report said “district authorities did not get periodical reports to monitor the progress of the implementation” and none of the villages collected the necessary cess towards maintenance and repairs. It said: “The government was to supplement an equal amount as collections subject to a maximum of Rs.2 lakh a year. An additional expenditure of Rs.2,617.38 crore has been incurred in six districts selected by the CAG for survey.”
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Pointing out the poor monitoring of the scheme, the CAG said that the manner in which the residents of the village behaved was contrary to the essence of the scheme. For one, several residents started digging between 10 per cent and 90 per cent more wells and borewells. Also, residents in several villages began growing water-intensive cash crops.

The report said only 29 of the 80 villages, which were declared as water neutral, had achieved the status. In the remaining 51 villages, the storage capacity created was far lower than required, but nevertheless they were declared water neutral. Ten villages that were declared as “not water neutral” were lackadaisical in improving their water-use efficiency. Thirty-eight villages did not report any increase in groundwater levels; 22 villages recorded a small increase in the groundwater table from 4 per cent to 15 per cent.

The CAG also pointed out that works under the scheme should have been subjected to third party audits in all the villages, but in reality, only one-third of the villages had undertaken the process.

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