Clean chit by the Chitale SIT Report on Maha Irrigation Scam?

 Ye jo Public hai, Ye sab Jaanti hai!

The much debated SIT Committee Report headed by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale was finally tabled in the State Assembly on the last day of the Assembly in the evening on the 11th June 2014, reading it one gets a feeling of déjà vu. Following the uproar due to unprecedented dam scam in 2012, GOM constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) on the last day of the promise, on 31 December 2012. Members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), chaired by Dr. Madhavrao Chitale include AKD Jadhav, retd. IRS official and also the past Chairperson of MWRRA, Dr. Krishna Lavekar, Retd. Agriculture Commissioner, GOM and Dr. V. M Ranade, Retd. Secy, Command Area Development, WRD, GOM.

The committee report was submitted in March 2014, after some extensions and was kept under wraps for past three months by the government possibly keeping the Loksabha elections in mind. Not that it mattered as Congress and NCP fared terribly in Maharashtra, winning just 6 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, and the irrigation scam seems to have had a massive role in this. Now the government, especially NCP’s former and current water resources ministers Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare are claiming that they have got a clean chit from the report, keeping the State Assembly elections in mind.

These claims will not help the political parties. On the other hand, they are likely to harm their political prospects.

But first let us look at some basic aspects of the report. Does it really give a clean chit to the political parties? Is it above shortcomings? Will it play an important role in overhauling dam-centric water management in Maharashtra?

TORs of SIT The TORs of the SIT, laid down by the Water Resources Department of the GOM were as follows:

  1. Investigate irrigation potential created, actual irrigated area (pratyaksha sinchit kshetra) and water use for non-irrigation use. In the actual irrigated area, find the irrigated area by wells, farm ponds, water conservation department and water resource department
  2. To ascertain if the revised administrative approvals given to projects by Irrigation Development Corporations (IDCs) are according to the existing rules and regulations.
  3. Investigate the reasons for delay in completing projects
  4. Investigate reasons behind change in scope from original administrative approval and increase in cost due to change in scope
  5. Suggests measures to increase the usefulness of Lift Irrigation Schemes (LIS)
  6. Suggest ways for quality enhancement in WRD
  7. Suggest ways so that project is completed in said time span and costs
  8. Suggest measures to increase irrigated area
  9. If irregularity found in the inquiry, investigate it, fix responsibility and suggest suitable action

Are TORs inadequate? The Chairperson Dr. Chitale has reiterated over and over again, in face of requests and submissions from media, civil society, petitions filed in court (there are at this moment about 23 PILs (Public Interest Litigation) filed in Bombay High Court about irrigation projects between 2009-2013), that it was not a part of their mandate to look at the modus operandi of the corruption involved in the scam, in the process of calling tenders and accepting contracts. As per section 9.8 of  SIT report, issues it has NOT looked at include: Misuse of clause 38 in tenders for addition of component in the main tender without re tendering, Sanctioning mobilization advances without appropriate justification, Manipulating estimates for accepting tenders, inclusion of unjustified and unrelated additional expenses and Dam Designs made by contractors. The Committee says that these irregularities are outside their TORs but there is ‘scope for doubt’ and the “government would need to investigate into this separately within the legal boundaries.” This is not true and the SIT should have gone into these issues, particularly when it has found ‘scope for doubt’ in these issues because per se the TORs are broad enough to include these.

The committee also says that going into these would have been difficult due to absence of man power, resources and time at the committee’s disposal. However, looking at the centrality of these issues in the Dam Scam, due to which the committee was set up in the first place, and the respect Dr. Chitale garners in the WRD (Water Resources Dept) and political circles, it would not have been impossible to get the TORs modified if at all necessary and very easy to get additional resources. But there is no evidence of the committee asking anything in this regard, indicating that this was not even attempted by the committee.

Apart from that, the committee could have addressed many of these issues being in their TORs as corruption, political-influence and contractor-led processes have affected nearly all the aspects covered in the TORs. Not looking at these issues has resulted in a situation where Dr. Chitale says one of the main reasons for cost escalation of projects has been rise in market prices. Now consider this: costs of Kondane dam increased from Rs 57 crores to Rs 614 cores in just six months, and market prices had nothing to do with this. There are several such examples, where cost escalations, time increase, technical problems had nothing to do with the issues looked at by the committee. The  exclusion of political and corruption issues have affected the quality of conclusions and recommendations of the report.

The committee notes that it relaxed the TORs in accepting submissions from organizations and NGOs, keeping the bigger picture in mind. Strange to see that committee did not think of doing so in issues related to corruption and political links.

CONCLUSIONS OF SIT:

Some of the good conclusions:

  • Environmental and Forest Violations: The report says that there are 2 projects without EC (Environment Clearance) and 31 projects without FC (Forest Clearance) and which did not get FC for more than 5 years. Without clearance, work on some projects stopped midway or dragged on, resulting in a dead investment. If work was started only after permissions, these expenses could have been avoided and money instead could have been spent only on those projects with permissions. The SIT has recommended strict action against officials who floated tenders and issued work orders without these clearances, which is welcome.
  • It has also recommended action to be taken against officials responsible for starting working without acquisition of land for the project as well as canals. (9.3.2)
  • Initiating work without detailed design: Recommends action should be taken against the officials. (9.3.3)
  • Initiating work in the absence of finance: Committee recommends Strict action against IDC, Chief Auditor and Executive Director of the IDC (9.3.4.) which started work without requisite finances.
  • River plugging without creation of irrigation potential: There are around 23 projects where the river plugging (ghal bharni) was done but there was no irrigation potential created then or even two years later. Committee recommends strict action against officials.
  • Projects with serious faults, suspicious transactions: Committee recommends that projects with multiple flawed parameters should be checked by an independent committee and recommends action against Executive Director for the respective IDC. Such projects include: Ujani, Krishna Koyna LIS, Seena Medium Project, Bembla Project, Lower Painganga, Jigaon, Kurka Wadoda Project (TIDC), Sulawade, Bodhawad Praisar, Lower Tapi, Mukatinagar LIS, Manjra, Vishnupuri (Godavari Barrages), Brahmangaon LIS, Upper Godavari Project, Krishna Marathawada project
  • The committee also notes serious irregularities in the following projects: Dhamani (Kolhapur) Kukadi (Seena Tunnel), Jigaon (Buldana, Kondane (Thane) and Chanera (Thane) and recommends special attention and investigation into these projects.

But many conclusions are flawed, unacceptable and some are even illegal:

  • Irrigated area in the State: The report relies only on data collected by WRD. It also states that WRD collects seasonal field data. However, this is not true. The WRD currently has no system in place for admeasuring irrigated area. Irrigation Status Reports and Benchmarking reports are also not available for the past three years. Chitale Committees’ conclusions based on data from WRD are not reliable.
  • TOR 9: Investigation and fixing responsibility The committee holds the entire state machinery including the Planning and Finance Department for not providing enough checks and balances on the work of WRD and classifies most blunders as “systemic errors” (9.04). While fixing clear responsibilities of these sectors could have helped, sweeping generalizations and repeated conclusion of “systemic errors” ensure escape route to all offenders.
  • The punishments are classified into mild and strict punishments, but even strict punishment is limited to departmental inquiries. The committee has also taken the circuitous route of not naming the offenders, but alluding to their posts and duration. Even this is extremely vague. So while the committee refuses to look at most contentious issues, it also refuses to name offenders and also does not name political hand behind the decisions. It does not seem to be an investigation team in any way. Also, when fixing responsibility is a part of the TOR, the committee cannot shirk from the responsibility and state that it will not name offenders. This is a public issue and committee does not have the privilege of overriding the TORs for its idea of leniency.
  • The committee says that investigation into irregularities indicates that major driving force has been stress to reduce backlog, pressure from ‘local’ political leadership, centralized decision making in the IDCs and conscious ignorance of rules and social responsibility. This lenient generalization washes any responsibility from the political leadership of the state and the contractor-engineer nexus.
  • Section 10.9 of the report states that the blunders committed by decision makers were not intentional and were mostly ‘errors of judgment’.
  • MWRRA: Committee reports that 12 Projects are without MWRRA permission. Mild action is recommended against responsible Executive Director. (9.4) While the committee recommends action even against Finance and revenue departments, it does not mention any strict action against MWRRA, which, as pointed out by the CAG Report 13-14 cleared 189 projects during 2007-2013 though the State Water Resource Plan, based on which the projects were required to be cleared, was not prepared, violating the MWRRA Act (2005). Significantly, CAG mentions that: “Authority also failed to perform its role as a regulator as envisaged in the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act, 2005.”
  • On functioning of IDCs The report states that in 2004, at a meeting of the governing council and IDC members, it was decided that the rights of giving Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) will be given to the Chairperson (WRD Minister). Only a few members of the governing council were present for this meeting. The SIT notes that while the IDCs should have been going towards decentralization, this was a regressive step towards centralization and concentration of power and authority, however, the committee does not suggest ANY action against the Chairman!
  • As per a 2003 GR (Government Resolution) regarding Krishna, Godavari and Vidarbha IDC, all rights to provide RAA were given to the Chairperson and Executive Director by the Governing Council of the IDCs, thus concentrating power (and also scope of corruption related to RAA hikes).
  • CAG Report (2013-14) says regular monthly meetings of the Governing Council of IDCs were not held, in violation of Maharashtra Irrigation Development Corporation Acts. The Chairman (WRD Minister) is directly responsible for this. But the SIT Report does not mention this!

Action Suggested with respect to Specific Projects:

GoseKhurd: There should be action against respective officials who did not visit the canal works due to which concretization was to be done again. The SIT does not suggest any departmental inquiry or anything new other than the recommendations of the Mendhegiri committee report.

Barrages on Godavari: Several question marks have been raised about these projects, their utility and safety. Kulkarni Committee appointed to look into irregularities has come up with strong measures against defaulting officials. But rather than upholding Kulkarni Committee’s recommendations, the SIT asks for constituting one more committee to look into the irregularities!

Illegal suggestion of SIT Shockingly the committee says: (Page 210) for Human Project Forest and Forest Clearance was incorporated in project tender and recommends “it would have been good if a separate tender was issued for this” This is very disturbing. The entire process of Forest Clearance happens through the State Government Forest Department and there is NO role for any other agent here. Any such role indicates violation of the Forest Conservation Act, and SIT recommends precisely such a violation!

Similarly, Environmental Appraisal is supposed to be an unbiased process looking at the social and environmental impact of projects. There is again no scope for tendering here. The SIT’s recommendations in this regard are illegal.

WHY THE PEOPLE OF MAHARASHTRA WILL REJECT THIS REPORT

After pursuing the 600 pager main report and its 32 pager Executive summary made by WRD[1], and keeping in mind all the other available information, one is left with little doubt that Chitale Committee has not only refused to unravel the truth, but has tried to protect political parties.

The unprecedented Dam scam in Maharashtra highlighted massive corruption in tendering process, a collusion of politicians contractors, engineers and bureaucrats, shockingly poor quality of work endangering lives of people in the downstream, a huge number of incomplete projects, nonexistent increase in irrigated area, etc. Some of the main whistle blowers of this scam included Anjali Damaniya of erstwhile IAC, organisations like Shramik Mukti Sangathana and SANDRP and most notable, Vijay Pandhare,  who was then the serving Chief Engieer of META, WRD. Mr. Pandhare’s letters to Chief Minister, WRD Officials, his engagement with the media etc., was remarkable and helped people of Maharashtra in understanding the scope and impact of the scam. In the past too, reports from forthright officials like Kulkarni, Vadnere and Upase had exposes parts of the scam and raised public awareness. This is apart from the systemic problems of dam-based water management in Maharashtra on which many individuals and organisations like Lokabhimukh Pani Dhoran Manch, NAPM, etc have been working for many years.

Considering this, people of Maharashtra are not going to look kindly upon any vague report that gives escape route to corrupt politicians, engineers and bureaucrats, without seizing the opportunity available to it. Unfortunately Chitale Committee Report (referred to as Chitale report) does just that. 

In fact, in the minds of people of Maharashtra who have followed this scam and listened to people in power insulting the plight of the common man in the absence of water (like Ajit Pawar’s remark about urinating in the dry dams or cutting water supply of villages that do not vote for NCP),  the report has seriously discredited Dr.  Madhavrao Chitale and the team of past bureaucrats themselves for:

  • not being clear and forthright about the main causes of the problems,
  • basing their data on the same WRD which has proved to be incorrect,
  • not seizing the historic opportunity available which could have altered the course of the Maharashtra irrigation through exemplary recommended actions,
  • not questioning the merits of mega irrigation projects which have been eating into Maharashtra’s public expenditure, concentrating water and power, impacting communities and ecosystems without benefits,
  •  being shockingly protective of the political class that was at the driving seat of this scam at public expense, by ignoring proofs against political leaders and parties even when it was available to the committee,
  • by maintaining escape routes in the report through which political leaders can escape
  • mollycoddling most of the issues as ‘systemic failures’ when it was their responsibility to fix precise responsibility and there were specific known culprits and institutions,
  • making some suggestions which are in fact illegal.

The committee shows how protective it is of the status quo in irrigation department when it talks of possible negative impact of exemplary punishments (and even departmental inquiries!) on the morale of WRD officials and says that irregularities other than financial ones are due to systemic failures and a large scale investigation into these will affect the morale of the officials. What will really affect the morale of good officials in WRD is NOT fixing responsibility on the guilty, thus maintaining a poor public image of the entire department, while putting the burden of political decisions exclusively on WRD officials. This will foster the feeling that no one can touch the political class and hence, officials better toe the line. This is sending a completely wrong signal.

All Political Parties in it together: While members of BJP are saying that the SIT Report indicts some leaders like Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatakare, these parties too are not stating upfront that there are serious flaws in the report & the projects, processes and systems the report was supposed to investigate and that neither the report, nor the flawed projects can be accepted. Neither do they raise the basic questions of the merits or lack of merits of having hundreds of irrigation projects without benefits at such huge expenses, and mostly unassessed social and environmental costs.

Nor do they talk about the real changes needed with the Water Resource Department, MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority), IDCs (Irrigation Development Corporations like the Konkan, Tapi, Kirshna Valley & Godavari basin) and related government machinery, to make them accountable, transparent and participatory.

The reasons for this are clear. The opposition parties are not untouched in this scam. Right now, they want to score political brownie points through the chaos while not aiming for any lasting changes or suggesting measures in the interest of people of Maharashtra. It should also be remembered that many of the current 600+ on-going irrigation projects under investigation were initiated at the time of Shiv Sena- BJP rule in the state.

The report protects political parties: While it has been shown by several reports, individuals and organisations that many decisions affecting projects were driven by financial and political interests, the report does not utter a word about political influence on WRD officials.

It should also be remembered Dr. Chitale, through his various roles as Chairman of Maharashtra Irrigation Commission, Secretary Water Resources for Government of Maharashtra & India, Secretary General of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, Chairperson of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of River Valley and Hydropower Projects MoEF[2] has been entirely pro dam in his approach. He has never questioned the basic need and merits of large dams, despite their poor performance, multiple safety issues, environmental and social impacts, hazy and unattained benefits, etc. His pro-dam attitude is very convenient for and coincides with government of Maharashtra’s push for large dam agenda: pushing dams at each and every possible location, without a thought about their performance and impacts. As a result, as pointed out by CAG report 2013, in June 2013, WRD has as many as 601 projects under execution with estimated balance cost of Rs 82,609.64 crore which is nine times the capital grant of the Water Resources Department for the year 2012-13.But the Chitale Committee Report does not say a word about  this.

The report protects the Central Government In sanctioning, monitoring and financing irrigation projects in Maharashtra, there is a huge role for several arms of the Central Government, including Union Ministry of Water Resources, Central Water Commission, Planning Commission and Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Thousands of crores of money comes from the Center to this state each year. The scam could go on unhindered also due to the failure of these agencies. For example, large irrigation projects are funded through Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme that is supposed to be monitored by CWC and Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is supposed to release first installment only after projects have all the clearances and every next installment only after previous installment has been used as per required norms and necessary results achieved. The SIT should have looked into the role of these agencies and their failures, but by not doing so, SIT has again favoured status quo and protected these bodies.

Dr Chitale, Ignorance of law is not a valid legal defense In the most crucial section of the report, dealing with fixing responsibility in grating Revised Administrative Approvals (RAAs), the report says that the Irrigation Development Corporation (IDC) does not have the right to sanction RAA and the Managing Director and CAFO (Audit and Finance Officer) of the IDC did not bring this to the notice of the IDC and hence the responsibility lies with them. In addition it says that: “Permission of Finance Department is needed for issuing RAA and it seems improbable that the GOM does not know this. This clearly implies that although the committee knows that Chairperson of the IDC knows this, being a part of the GOM, it is not ready to say so, shifting the responsibility on the officials.

In the very next point on action suggested, however, the report says: “In cases where expense made exceed approval, the Executive Director of IDC did not have power to grant RAA. CAFO and Executive Director of IDC are responsible for not bringing this fact to the attention of the Governing Council. If they had brought this to the notice of the governing council of the IDCthen responsibility comes to members and Chairperson. GOM should take appropriate decision in this regard.”

This is the only place where the SIT mentions the Chairperson of the IDC (Water Resources Minister) in the entire report!

This is possibly the most dishonest part of the report. The committee implies that WRD Minister of the State not knowing the norms of WRD is fine, and the responsibility for minister’s ignorance should lie with the officials. But, ignorance of laws and orders is not an excuse for violating laws. It is clear that SIT should have firmly indicted the WRD Ministers and recommended strong action against them. The SIT has done nothing of this sort and has transferred the responsibility on the WRD officials, also keeping a clever escape route for the politicians. Sunil Tatkare is already exploiting this escape route. (Interview)

This is shocking, blatant and unacceptable.

RECOMMENDATIONS OF SIT The Chitale Committee has made following recommendations, translated by SANDRP from original Marathi:

1. Through Remote Sensing (RS) find the actual siltation of major, medium and some minor projects

2. Cities and industries should treat their sewage and effluents to 100% level to reduce non-irrigation water demand

3. Water charges should be levied on wells in command which have not been handed over to WUAs

4. Performance evaluation of minor irrigation projects and recommendations for betterment

5. In cases where perennial crops like sugarcane are taken on major projects and canals their area should ascertained by RS and water charges levied accordingly.

6. Revenue and Agriculture Department is causing extreme delay in collating irrigated area. This needs to be looked into urgently.

7. In depth assessment of why water use is less in Konkan, Amravati and Marathwada and undertake works accordingly

8. Study through MERI: why has carrying capacity of canals decreased?

9. Do not declare irrigation potential created unless distribution systems are in place and ascertained

10. Proper account of irrigated area should be kept with the Agriculture Commissioner

11. Any fraudulent use of non-irrigation water should be checked and detailed audit published every year

12. Methods of collecting data for Economic Survey Report should be improved.

13. Data in benchmarking report should be collated at project level and not Division level as it is done now.

14. The actual cost of projects (original cost + escalation) should be considered as Administrative Approval cost and if cost of the project exceeds 12% of this only then it should be considered for Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) according to CWC guidelines

15. In RAA while finding the benefit ratio, the expenses should be modified as per the escalation

16. WRD needs to have its own code of conduct and rulebook

17. LIS Projects should have a separate rate list, separate from the contractor

18. The WRD should publish escalation rates based on rates every year

19. Construction work should be audited at various stages.

20. After the project construction has been completed, the project should be handed to the management division, WUAs, distributaries work should be done asap (As soon as possible)

21. Some period before and after the project should be designated as project related time

22. Before clearing any further LIS, it should be checked whether it has complete financial support and its electricity expenses should also be considered

23. Separate maintenance fund for pumps, rising mains and other LIS equipment should be considered

24. Rather than giving water to PA’s through LIS, smaller WUAs should be formed and water should be given through smaller LIS

25. Manual for LIS needs to be developed which includes all aspects of LIS management, implementation and command area development

26. Quality control parameters for WRD Department are now out of date and new ones should be developed

27. Damaged and dysfunctional equipment on states dams should be immediately made functional and it should be seen if any changes in these are needed

28. A committee should be formed under MERI to implement and manage the recommendation of the Dam Safety Organization

29. Special training session on Colgrout masonry should be organized by META and only the certified employees should be used for overlooking related works.

30. Proper management of projects as per methods like PERT or CPM should be undertaken at Project formulation stage. Activity time considered should be from the start of initial work to the initiation of irrigation from the project

31. Limits of the five year plan should also be laid on project

32. Work on large projects needs to be broken down in smaller pieces and projects with irrigation potential higher than 1 lakh ha should be termed as Mega projects.

33. Investment made for non-irrigation use should be clearly indicated as such

34. Irrigation potential of the project should be adjusted as per the water used for non-irrigation uses.  Requisite area should be reduced from irrigation potential of the project. Not doing so bloats the irrigation potential created.

35. A separate cell should be set up for coordinating mandatory clearances in IDCs (Irrigation Development Corporations)

36. Help should be taken from Social scientists, NGOS etc in rehabilitation, water distribution and WUA formation

37. Completion report of the project should be prepared in which the responsible officer writes the history of the project and looks at future. A separate cell for this need to be created

38. Separate set up for Project related survey and this should have responsibility of awareness creation in beneficiaries.

39. All IDCS should have separate rules as they have separate regional needs.

40. To achieve the scope and participation of IDCS, noted non-government representatives heading financial institutions/ orgnaistiaons, MLAs and MPs etc should be deputed. There should be a quorum for IDC decision making meetings.

41. Steps should be taken to make IDCs self-sufficient through things like fisheries sale, water charges for HEPs, the water charges should be deposited with the IDCs. This will encourage the IDCs

42. High tech and region specific irrigation methods should be used like drip, sprinkles, piped supply, cropping pattern and volumetric water supply norms.

Suggestions Offered: Can they improve the current situation? While some suggestions of the SIT are indeed good, they still continue with the same status quo,  doing tinkering here and there.  When there was a need for substantive increase in transparency, accountability, independent oversight and participation in WRD, the suggestions largely remain at the superficial level. They follow the same system that was so easily manipulated by the officials as well as politicians, while blacking out the affected communities as well as local stakeholders from the decision making processes.

As it was pointed out by several groups (Example: Manch, NAPM, SANDRP, experts like Pradeep Purandare) at the time of appointing the committee, there were several fundamental flaws in the appointment of the members, the TORs of the Committees, the powers it had to take any meaningful action against the guilty. It was clear from the outset, and also vindicated by the report that the SIT committee Report under Dr. Chitale mainly protects the political masters.

However, after witnessing and sometimes even bearing the burden of the irrigation scam and political interference in water management,the people of Maharashtra know how deep the roots of this scam go. They also understand that any report which the political parties use as an escape route is not credible. To that effect, the SIT Committee Report under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chitale will not help the political parties. Ye jo Public hai, ye sab jaanti hai…

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] Exe Summary by WRD and not the SIT committee. Strangely committee report does not have an executive summary

[2] The EAC under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chitale gave environmental clearance to 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Project in Arunachal in 2002, which has been stalled for more than 2 years now for the want of comprehensive studies. When the EAC sanctioned the project, it was designed to release 6 cumec water for nearly 20 hours and suddenly 2000 cumeces for 2-4 hours to generate electricity, which would have disastrous impacts on downstream Assam. The environmental clearance and approval to this project caused a huge uproar and protests in downstream Assam and these are still continuing.

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