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Devendra Fadnavis’s water scheme latest flashpoint between BJP, Shiv Sena

LiveMint logoLiveMint 18-05-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s flagship water conservation programme ‘Jalyukta Shivar’ has become the latest flashpoint between uncomfortable allies Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena has levelled charges of corruption in the execution of Jalyukta Shivar schemes in Ratnagiri district of Konkan. On Friday, Shiv Sena will hold a farmers’ convention in Nashik in north Maharashtra where party president Uddhav Thackeray is likely to announce Sena’s own probe into the Jalyukta Shivar schemes all over the state, according to a Sena functionary, who requested anonymity.

He said the findings of this probe would be used by Thackeray during his ongoing rural outreach programme in Vidarbha and Marathwada, the two regions where Jalyukta Shivar programme assumes critical importance in the context of drought.

A state BJP functionary, who requested anonymity, said the Sena offensive on Jalyukta Shivar could be particularly disconcerting for Fadnavis since the “chief minister has been personally driving the campaign and has made it the centrepiece of his ambitious programme to double farm income and permanently solve the chronic problem of drought”.

Launched in December 2014 soon after the BJP-Sena came to power, the Jalyukta Shivar (which literally means farms with plentiful water) is in effect an amalgamation of all water conservation and micro-irrigation schemes that several government departments used to implement independently. The Fadnavis government has brought all these schemes under the umbrella head of Jalyukta Shivar and has added a component of public participation and corporate social responsibility to encourage people, NGOs and companies to join the campaign either through direct execution or monetary contribution.

The Fadnavis government set ambitious targets for the programme in early 2015—of making 25,000 villages completely drought-free in five years from 2015 by focusing on 5,000 villages each year.

In March this year, governor C.H. Vidyasagar Rao told the legislature, in his address before the budget session, that 2.5 lakh works of water conservation had been completed under the programme and 1.2 million thousand cubic metres of water storage potential was created. The campaign made around 11,000 villages drought-free, the governor said in the address.

Water sector experts, however, are sceptical about these claims. Pradeep Purandare, surface irrigation expert and former assistant professor at the Aurangabad-based state-owned Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), said the lobbies of contractors and JCB excavator operators had hijacked the scheme at several places.

“There has been excessive deepening of rivers and excavation in some places. This would not only render the programme useless but also create new problems in future because rainwater could again push back the excavated soil back into the rivers. Wherever works have been carried out by government departments like agriculture and micro-irrigation, they have stuck to the parameters. But serious issues of execution have emerged in works carried out by some NGOs and companies under CSR,” Purandare said.

Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra’s environment minister Ramdas Kadam has claimed that in Ratnagiri district, contractors have been paid for Jalyukta Shivar works which existed only on paper. BJP leader and minister for water resources Ram Shinde has since ordered an inquiry into the works in Ratnagiri.

Kadam has said that similar malpractices might have been committed in other districts as well and the Sena probe would find out the efficacy of entire Jalyukta Shivar programme.

The BJP-Sena confrontation over Jalyukta Shivar has a political context to it. In 2016, when Jalyukta Shivar started earning nationwide attention, the Shiv Sena saw the potential political benefits the programme could deliver to the BJP and, in particular, Fadnavis. Thackeray asked the Sena legislators in Marathwada to carry out water conservation works in their constituencies under the campaign named ‘Shiv Jal Kranti’ (Shiv Water Revolution).

“The Shiv Jal Kranti campaign was Sena’s response to Jalyukta Shivar but it never had the scale of Jalyukta Shivar. Also, Fadnavis has proved to be a better spokesperson of his pet programme than Thackeray,” said the BJP functionary quoted above.

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