Gujarat govt's water conservation campaign meant to "hide" deep-seated corruption at the highest level

By Our Representative
India’s top civil rights organization, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), has alleged that the Gujarat government’s ambitious Jal Sanchay Abhiyan, claimed to have been launched to conserve water during the coming monsoon by deepening lakes, tanks, reservoirs and constructing new check dams, besides desilting riverbeds and canals, is a nothing but “a fabrication to hide deep-seated corruption at the highest level.”
Concluded on June 1, not only has the campaign has not been able to cater 10% of the population of Gujarat, it has failed to meet any targets, said PUCL.
Quoting official figures, a PUCL statement said, out of 1 lakh lakes only 13,000 were deepened, and as against 52 lakh farm ponds, only about 2.61 lakh were dug up, insisting, the actual purpose of the water conservation crusade was “to cover up the state government's corruption in Gujarat Land Development Corporation (GLDC)”, a state-run Public Sector Undertaking (PUCL).
GLDC was recently in news for massive corruption following an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) raid, leading to the arrest of SK Detroja, its managing-director, as also several other officials, in whose drawers cash worth Rs 56 lakh was recovered, all of it said to be graft money for different GLDC schemes.
Ironically, close on the heels of the raids, instead of carrying on a deeper inquiry which would have revealed a bigger scam, the state water resources department was asked to implement the Jal Sanchay Abhiyan.
Talking with media at PUCL press conference in Ahmedabad, former BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta alleged, there is nothing new about the crusade. “It has been going on for many years. The only new thing was, this time it was being implemented by the water resources department, and this has been done to hide what has been going on inside GLDC”.
Terming it “institutionalized corruption”, Mehta said, “As soon as that scam came to light the Government launched Jal Sanchay Abhiyan in a big way. In order to show that it is something new, the state government gave it the name of Sujalam Sufalam Water Conservation Scheme, setting aside the earlier name of Sardar Patel Community Water Conservation scheme, as it has been known for several years.”
Pointing towards how the “new” scheme was a total failure, addressing media, senior economist Prof Rohit Shukla told media, “As of 2014-15, in all 1,65,560 checkdams were built under the Sardar Patel Community Water Conservation scheme. In the last four years this has been increased to 1,68,895, a rise of just about 3,335 checkdams.”
“Similarly”, said Prof Shukla, “During the same period, while 1,22,035 weirs already existed, they went up to 1,25,541, which means an addition of 3,506 weirs”, adding, “Number of farm ponds, which were 2,61,785 in 2014-15, have increased to 2,61,988, resulting in the increase of 203 only. Then, while Gujarat as in all 203 lakes, only 13,000 of them were officially announced to have been deepened.”
Senior environmentalist Mahesh Pandya said, “Such poor showing was there despite the fact that official figures suggest, as against 527 JCB machines originally planned for different works, their numbers were increased to 4,600. Similarly, while originally the plan was to put into operation 2,000 tractors, their numbers went up to 16,000.”
“Then”, said Pandya, “Originally, 27,000 rural workers were to be employed under the National Rural Guarantee Employment Scheme for the campaign, but official figures show that the numbers employed went up to 3 lakh.”
He added, “Originally, the state government announced it would use Rs 200 crore for various schemes under the campaign. However, it finally declared it had used Rs 354 crore. One wonders whether more than half of the agriculture budget of the state government for the year 2018-19, around Rs 600 crore, was used up this.”
The PUCL statement, distributed to the media, quoted Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani as saying that, because of its water conservation campaign, “fertile soil that will be generated out of deepening of ponds/check dams shall be offered without recovering royalty of a single paisa.”
However, in actual fact, things were quite different. Thus, PUCL said, “In Dudheeya village of Limkheda taluka of Dahod District, Rs 5 crore was allocated, and the work was executed by deploying machinery, and the soil/clay that was generated was sold at a price ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 800 per tractor load. This goes to prove that in executing this so-called water conservation scheme, lot of corruption had taken place.”

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