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Vidharbha's Gosikhurd project incomplete after 24 years

Incomplete even 24 years after its initiation, the Gosikhurd inter-district irrigation project on river Vainganga in Bhandara is the epitome of negligence by the Maharashtra government.

The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had performed 'bhoomipujan' of the Gosikhurd project on 22 April 1988, when its cost was a moderate Rs 372 crore. Now 24 years on, and after spending Rs 6,049 crore, Vidarbha's biggest irrigation project is still bereft of funds.

Promises were made for its early completion to bring about changes in the socio-economic face of Vidarbha but unfortunately the dream has remained just that.

According to sources, the cost of the project has now escalated to a whopping Rs 13,600 crore - roughly 40 times the original estimate. But real benefits are yet to be passed on to the people of Bhandara, Nagpur and Chandrapur districts who will be immensely benefited once this mega project starts irrigating land, providing drinking water and supplying water to industries.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised to accord National Project status to Gosikhurd during his visit to the Vidarbha region on 1 July 2006.

While accepting the demand to provide more funds for irrigation, Singh had said, 'The Indira Sagar Dam and the Gosikhurd Project are close to the hearts of the people of Nagpur. Its foundation stone was laid by the late Rajiv Gandhiji. I request the Government of Maharashtra to speed up the work on the project and we will provide all necessary assistance from the Government of India for the speedy completion of the project.'

Despite support to Gosikhurd, the project has failed to achieve its desired potential, thanks to the paltry budgetary allocation made by the Maharashtra government all these years.

Though people created periodical protests against the injustice, it never really helped the mega project, sources said.

The Centre has recently blocked the release of the second installment of the last fiscal, Rs 800 crore, putting the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation [VIDC] - which is executing this project, and its contractors in a tight spot.

Whether the project can be completed in 2012-13 depends on political will of Vidarbha's leadership, sources said.

The Central Water Commission had pegged its cost at Rs 7,778 crore in 2008. So far, VIDC has spent around Rs 6,049 crore. Out of Central Government's share of Rs 4,383, Rs 2,582 crore has been received and if state's share is added by March 2012, Rs 3,628 crore have been spent.

But so far irrigation potential has been created only of 34,056 hectares, versus the project's capacity to irrigate nearly 2.5 lakh hectares the in Nagpur, Bhandara and Chandrapur districts.

The astronomical rise in cost has naturally brought on allegations of corruption, exaggeration and highlighted the unholy nexus between contractors and officials who used the project as a cash cow during the past 25 years. The major reasons behind the increase are said to be the rise in current schedule rates (CSR) of civil work and the tremendous increase in land rates.

VIDC has constructed around 102 km of the 113 km long right bank canal and water testing has been done for a stretch of 30 km. The main canal of the left bank, which will cater to the Nagpur and Bhandara districts, has been completed and work on distribution lines is underway.

Out of four lift irrigation schemes, one has been completed while work is in different stages in the remaining three. The repair work of Asolamedha dam in Chandrapur, which is a part of this project, at in a primary stage.

Rehabilitation of project-affected families is also on, albeit at a slow pace. According to VIDC, 16,000 families in 93 villages including 8,312 families in Nagpur, 6,000 families in Bhandara and 1,542 families in Chandrapur district have had to be rehabilitated.
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