The Gosikhurd National Irrigation Project (GNIP) is unlikely to meet its completion deadline of 2023. The state government’s failure to make higher budgetary allocations for the project will not only delay its completion but also result in cost escalation.
Highly-placed officials in the Water Resources department told The Indian Express, “The GNIP completion is not possible in 2023. The project is likely to be delayed by three to four years. The project requires Rs 4,249 crore to be completed. Even if the state government were to allocate Rs 1,000 crore every year, it would take four years to get completed.” The probability of the government making a one-time allocation of Rs 4,249 crore to fast track the project and take it to its logical end is also being totally ruled out.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar during the annual Budget presentation last week had announced Rs 853 crore for the project against the proposed demand by the department of Rs 1,500 crore for 2022-23.
“As against the sanctioned cost of Rs 18,500 crore, Rs 14,251 crore has already been spent on the project,” Pawar had said. The mammoth investment in the project was scattered and utilised in phases. The project has languished for the last 38 years.
The Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), which comes under the parent department of water resources, is executing the project on the Wainganga river in the Pauni taluka of Bhandara district in the Vidarbha region. GNIP will be significant in enhancing the irrigation potential of the region and tackle the farming crisis in the backward region.
A senior executive engineer of the VIDC requesting anonymity said, “The project is in its final phase. If the government would have displayed political will and generously allocated funds, it would have been completed by 2023-24.”
“The allocation for the Gosikhurd project in the current budget at Rs 853 crore is lesser than last year’s Rs 1,000 crore (2021-22). It was Rs 500 crore in 2020-21,” the engineer said.
This piecemeal approach to the mega project is not only delaying the completion of the project but also leading to cost escalation.
The incomplete project has adversely affected more than 35 lakh farmers in the Vidarbha region. Insiders in the VIDC admit, “The project delay has deprived farmers from access to water for irrigating their farms and fields. At present, only 50 per cent of the irrigation potential has been achieved.”
The project, after its completion, will bring a 2.5 lakh hectare area under irrigation in the three districts of Bhandara, Chandrapur and Nagpur. The area covered under irrigation in Bhandara will be 89,856 hectares, 19,481 hectares in Nagpur and 1,41,463 hectares in Chandrapur district.
The chairman of the Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavlambhan Yojna, Kishore Tiwari, said, “The irrigation backlog in Vidarbha is the main reason for the agriculture crisis and farmers’ suicide. The Gosikhurd project had brought some hope but it has remained only on papers. The incomplete project does not help the farmers.” Tiwari believes the Centre and state together should ensure the completion of the project at the earliest.
The Wainganga river has surplus water. The construction of the Gosikhurd dam, lift irrigation and canal work is complete but the infrastructure network for the distribution of water from the dam to the fields is yet to be constructed. Apart from this, there are some pending issues related to the project that affect the people and have to be resolved. Although successive governments have given compensation to the affected persons, the infrastructure in the relocated colonies or installation of basic infrastructure for livelihood remains to be done.
In 2007, the project earned national status. Inaugurated by late Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, the original cost of the project was Rs 372 crore. It was increased to Rs 5,659 crore later. The Central Water Commission gave its approval for a revised cost to Rs 7,778 crore in 2007. In March 2012, the project cost was revised to Rs 13,739 crore. Again in September 2016, it was increased to Rs 18,500 crore.
Sources in the VIDC cautioned, “If the project is not expedited and allowed to linger beyond two to three years, the overall cost will cross Rs 20,000 crore.”