Pradeep Pattanayak

The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG)’s recent report which sheds light on the sorry state of affairs of irrigation projects in Odisha has provided the Oppositions a peg to hang their attack on the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD). 

The much-hyped Lower Indra Irrigation Project in Nuapada district was commenced at a projected cost of Rs 211 crore in 1999. The project was targeted to be completed in three years’ time and to irrigate 13,190 hectares of farmland in Nuapada district and 16,709 hectares in Bolangir district. 

However, on account of myriad reasons, the project jumped the deadline. Due to the time overrun, the project cost appreciated to Rs1,925 crore by 2021. In haste, the Chief Minister dedicated the project to people on March 10, 2021. 

Unfortunately though, far from meeting the set target, the project is irrigating only 2,500 to 3,000 hectares of agricultural land in Nuapada district, fanning anger among farmers. 

“The project would have irrigated 13,190 hectares land in Nuapada district. But in reality, it has miserably failed to meet the target,” rued leader of Lower Indra Displaced Persons, Jadumani Panigrahi. 

Most of the irrigation projects in the State have suffered the same fate as that of the Lower Indra Irrigation Project. The CAG has expressed his displeasure over the tardy progress of the projects. 

The CAG in the ‘Performance Audit on Surface Irrigation’ report said the projects are progressing at snail’s pace, witnessing a delay of 13 to 43 years for their completion. As a result, the project costs have increased from 182 percent to 4,596 percent. Most importantly, despite spending a whooping Rs12,742 crore, only 24 percent of the targeted land has so far been irrigated in the State. 

The CAG also expressed surprise over the authorities returning Rs843 crore even though they had the right to spend. What raised many eye brows is the detection of Rs2,203 crore irregularities in the irrigation projects by the watchdog. 

Informing about the massive irregularities, DG, Railway Audit, Bibhudatta Basantia said they had visited 15 projects on test check and found out that despite spending Rs12,742 crore, the projects were irrigating only 1,22,418 hectares out of targeted 5,02,842 hectares.  

“If they (BJD) can manage the elections so nicely, why not the irrigation projects?” asked ex-Minister Lalit Mohan Patnaik. 

“The irrigation projects are very important for two reasons. They help improve the amount of harvest and recharge ground water,” Patnaik added. 

Hitting out at the ruling party, president, BJP Krushak Morcha, Pradeep Purohit said, “The CAG report has unmasked the government. The government as well as its officers are incompetent for which funds have been asked back.”

Senior Congress leader Suresh Routray trained his gun at the government, saying the officers responsible for not spending the money should be punished so that there would be no such repetition in future. 

In his response, Water Resources Minister Raghunandan Das ascribed the delay to several factors, including inordinate delay in getting clearances from the Forest, Environment and Climate Change departments and affected people’s high expectation to get some returns from the projects.