Mumbai: The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) may be trying to play both sides of a white paper on irrigation in Maharashtra against the middle. The paper, presented by a minister belonging to the party, blames departments run by coalition partner Congress for the inordinate delays in such projects.
Delays and corruption accusations by the state auditor in July had forced chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to promise a white paper on the issue. Now the NCP’s own legislators are opposing one of the recommendations of the paper to build support for the party in the Marathwada area.
The recommendation is for deferring projects that are less than 25% complete so those near completion can be given priority. The NCP father-son duo of Padma Singh Patil and Rana Jagjit Singh Patil, both former state ministers, are vocal on the issue. They feel the recommendation will jeopardize some 50 irrigation projects in the region.
“These are mere recommendations and no decision has been taken by the government yet,” said state water resource minister Sunil Tatkare, who released the white paper on Thursday. “And I don’t think the Patils are opposing the white paper, they are merely raising the concerns of their region.”
Analysts believe the move by the Patils is part of the NCP’s bid to expand its base in Marathwada, the poorest region in the state. With the death of Congress party leader Vilasrao Deshmukh having left a vacuum, the NCP wants to boost the party’s base in the region.
Deshmukh succumbed to cancer in August. Another Congress stalwart from the region, former chief minister Ashok Chavan, is lying low because of his alleged involvement in the Adarsh housing scam that saw irregular allotments of prime real estate.
The irrigation white paper was published by the government after allegations of corruption and the outcry over the state managing to add just 0.1% to total irrigated land despite spending Rs.70,000 crore in the last 10 years.
The total strength of the Maharashtra assembly is 288, of which 46 are from the eight districts of Marathwada. The region also sends eight members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha. The NCP has 11 assembly members from the region and the Congress, 18.
Rana Singh Patil said all he was asking for was fair treatment. “We are not opposing the white paper,” he said. “We are telling the government doesn’t treat us on par with other regions as Marathwada is the poorest region of the state and our demand for integrated development of projects coming under the Krishna valley was accepted by the government after a struggle of 25 years.”
Patil and his father had called an all-party meeting of leaders from Marathwada on Tuesday at Osmanabad to oppose the recommendation, but members of the Congress, the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party kept away.
Gopinath Munde, who is from Beed in Marathwada region and is deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, said, “MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) belonging to the BJP and Sena (the Shiv Sena) will raise the issue of unjust recommendations to backward regions like Marathwada and Vidarbha in the state legislature’s winter session and oppose them tooth and nail.”
The winter session of the state legislature will begin on 10 December.
Pradeep Purandare, former professor at Water and Land Management Institute, an autonomous institute working under the aegis of the state government, said, “The NCP seems to be in a hurry to jump the gun.”
He pointed to another recommendation made in the white paper that “suggests giving priority to projects in backward regions like Marathwada and Vidarbha”. The projects should be undertaken on the basis of economic and physical viability, not on how far they are from completion, he added.
“The NCP is trying to spread its wings in Marathwada,” said Jaydeo Dole, head of the department at Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University’s department of journalism and communications. “Party president Sharad Pawar had been most vocal in the recent past on the issue of releasing water to Marathwada from dams in Ahmadnagar and Nasik districts as the region is facing one of the worst droughts, so there is nothing surprising in the NCP raising the issue of the white paper recommendations.” State Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant said, “It would have been better if instead of raising the issue publicly, the NCP leaders consulted with the water resources minister who belongs to their own party. It would have shown that they are genuinely concerned about the issue.”