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Ranchi: Pending irrigation projects, several of them conceived over four decades back, are draining Jharkhand's exchequer, with the cost in some cases leapfrogging 50 times the original estimates.
Work on eight major and 18 medium projects is under way for the last two to three decades. The delay is not only financially hurting the tribal state, more than half of whose population lives below the poverty line, but also adding to the woes of the farmers, already reeling under successive droughts.
Take the case of the partially completed Swarnrekha Multi Purpose Project (SMPP), the biggest irrigation project in the state. Mooted in 1973, its cost was estimated at Rs 128.99 crore (almost $19 million) in 1978. The estimate was revised in 2011 to Rs.6,613.74 crore. Till February 2015, the expenditure was about Rs.3,575 crores.
The state government plans to complete the SMPP by 2017-2018, when it will irrigate more than 200,000 hectares of agricultural land against the over 45,000 hectares it now services.
Besides the SMPP, there are scores of large, medium and small irrigation projects pending in the state.
The Ajay Barrage was mooted in 1975 at an estimated cost of Rs.10.34 crore. This was upped to Rs.351.84 crore in 2007, and the total amount spent on it till 2015 is Rs.337.72 crore.
The project, on completion, will irrigate 40,510 hectares of land in Deoghar and Dumka districts.
According to officials, the canal work and other work of the project is nearly 90 percent complete.
Then, there is the Gumani irrigation project for Sahebganj and Pakur districts that was planned in 1976 at an initial estimate of Rs 3.83 crore. In 2007, the cost was upped to Rs 162.32 crore, and till 2015 the amount has been spent. Ninety-eight percent of the project's canal work is now complete, officials say.
The oldest is the North Koel irrigation project. Mooted in 1970 at an estimated cost of Rs.30 crore, this has now been revised to Rs 814.73 crore.
Officials attribute the long delay in completion of the projects to several factors such as irregular funding, long-winded acquisition and rehabilitation policies as also "inherent paradoxes".
"The funding for the irrigation projects was stopped for almost 10 years from 1990. There are inherent paradoxes in the projects. Land of X person is submerged and Y person gets the benefits, causing public protests. The land acquisition, rehabilitation and displacement policies, as also other factors delayed the projects," Sukhdeo Singh, principal secretary of the Water Resources Department, told IANS.
The state government is expediting the pending irrigation projects and is trying to revive the lost potential of the completed projects.
According to the official, the state lost 200,000 hectares of the 300,000 hectares land in the completed irrigation projects due to lack of maintenance.
"In the next financial year (2016-17), we are planning to make budgetary provisions to restore the lost 200,000 hectares land of the completed projects," Sukhdeo Singh said.
Irrigation is a cause for concern in the state, in which the hilly areas and small landholdings is not conducive for farming. The state produces only half of its total consumption of foodgrains, while the state government declared the entire state as drought affected in the current financial year that ends on March 31.
As per official records, 23 percent of the cultivable land is fed through the irrigation system, but experts claim the actual area is only around 12 per cent.
Jharkhand's total land area is 7.97 million hectares, of which 2. 97 million hectares are cultivable.