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Bihar govt orders probe as canal wall awaiting Nitish inauguration collapses

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-09-2017 PTI

Patna/Bhagalpur: The Bihar government on Wednesday ordered a probe into the breach of a canal in Bhagalpur, which led to the cancellation of inauguration of an irrigation project today by chief minister Nitish Kumar, and a barrage of criticism from opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal and JD(U) rebel Sharad Yadav.

The Bihar chief minister was scheduled to inaugurate today the Rs389.31 crore Bateshwarsthan Ganga Pump Canal Project, aimed at providing irrigation facilities in the state and neighbouring Jharkhand.

The wall broke up after being forcefully hit by the Ganga river waters when the pump was switched on for a trial run. Gushing waters entered Kahalgaon, about 3 km from the project site, and inundated areas in an NTPC township.

“A probe by principal secretary, water resources department, has been ordered into the matter,” state water resources minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan told PTI.

On his part, principal secretary Arun Kumar Singh admitted of “department’s fault” in not checking the canal before its inauguration. “I personally express regret on behalf of the department,” he told reporters in Bhagalpur. He said stringent action would be taken against officials found guilty and the project would be inaugurated “after two months”, during which the deficiencies would be addressed.

Meanwhile, water minister Lallan said “it has come to light the NTPC had constructed an underpass below the canal in the past” which could have weakened the canal. “The probe would look into all the angles.”

The principal secretary said the department is yet to check the papers to ascertain if a no objection certificate was taken before constructing the underpass. NTPC Kahalgaon executive director Rakesh Samuel, who met the principal secretary, said the underpass was constructed long ago and he was yet to check old records.

He, however, added, “The NTPC does not do any work without obtaining NoC.”

The minister said the canal was built during 1985-88 and the government just did the mechanical part of the project by constructing the pump station in the past one year to lift Ganga waters for irrigation purposes.

“But officials should have checked the canal too before its scheduled inauguration,” he said.

The collapse invited harsh comments from opposition RJD which said it was constructed with “poor quality” materials. “It is a glaring example of corruption under the Nitish Kumar government,” RJD president Lalu Prasad alleged in Patna.

“Earlier rodents caused breach in embankments to trigger flood in Bihar. Did crocodiles break the canal wall with the help of their mouth this time in Bhagalpur?” he said taking potshots at the state government. Prasad said the water resources minister should quit.

Lallan brushed it aside saying Prasad had no moral right to issue such “sermons”. Rebel JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav also attacked the government over the incident. “Did any such tragedy happen when a project worth about Rs400 crore could not be inaugurated due to breach in the canal a day before?” he asked.

The Rs389.31 crore project has a total irrigation capacity of 27,603 hectares of which 22,816 is in Bihar and 4,887 hectares in neighbouring Jharkhand, a government brochure about the project said.

The erstwhile Planning Commission had originally approved the project in 1977 at an estimated cost of Rs13.88 crore. The first administrative approval was provided in 2008 involving a cost of Rs389.31 crore, the brochure said.

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