Delay cost huge, rework: Cag

Clean Ganga Project

By Shivaji Sarkar

“The Ganga cleaning project has cost the nation Rs 7304 crore”, notes the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its observations and adds the money has gone waste! The expenses were incurred, as per NGT from 2015 to 2017, but not restricted to Ganga alone. Most such water and river projects have not been able to achieve the desired objective.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its audit of national projects of Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation from 2008 to 2017 has noted that of the 16 national projects only five, conceptualised from 1975-83, could come under implementation. Thus, delays are very much a part of the process, leading to enormous cost escalation. The original cost of the five projects was Rs 3530 crore and the current cost estimates says the CAG are Rs 86,172.23 crore — an escalation of almost 22 times or 2341 per cent! The shortfall ranged from eight to 99 per cent.
In February 2008, the Central government approved a scheme of 16 major national water resource development and irrigation projects that were languishing due to various constraints such as land acquisition, inter-State coordination, financial constraints and issues relating to rehabilitation and resettlement of affected persons.
The fundamental objective of the five schemes was to ensure coordinated and focused action to expedite their execution. “The performance audit brought out that the objective remained unachieved though an expenditure of Rs 13,299.12 crore had been incurred till March 2017”.
The five: Indira Sagar Polavaram (ISP) project in Andhra Pradesh, Gosikhurd irrigation project in Maharashtra, Shahpur Khandi Dam (SKD) project in Punjab, Saryu Nahar Pariyojana (SNP) in Uttar Pradesh and Teesta Barrage project in West Bengal, aim at creating 25.10-lakh hectare irrigation potential. So far, a mere 5.36 lakh hectatre (37 per cent) is being utilised and the Teesta project, with its poor implementation has led to tension between India and Bangladesh. Power was generated of the envisaged 1236.50 mega watt.
The remaining 11 projects with an estimated irrigation capacity of 10.48-lakh hectare are at different stages of approval and it’s anybody’s guess how long it will take. The approval for the five projects took 17 to 65 months — over 12 years and the delays were due to inaccurate survey and investigation by State agencies.
In some cases such as Goshikhurd in Maharashtra and Bursar in Jammu and Kashmir, the cost increase was due to change in the basic contours. While Goshikhurd had an additional cost of Rs 778 crore and till March 2017 the Central Water Commission had not approved it, the Bursar project was recommended by CWC in 2008 but the NHPC in 2012-13 suggested shifting of the site to Pakal from Hanzai. The NHPC survey itself cost an unnecessary Rs 132.17 crore.
The CAG has observed that project approvals were complicated and rendered inaccurate due to adoption of redundant survey and outdated price levels. This led to incorrect calculation of economic viability of projects and both put together led to additional cost of Rs 904 crore in these cases.
The observation is indeed important and what the NGT has noted about Ganga cleaning is too linked to such procedural problems. The system is rigmarole and sites are changed or modifications are made without factoring the variables. Even land acquisition in all these projects takes too long.
In the case of the Teesta project, though the proposal for partial land acquisition was submitted in September 2012, it could not get West Bengal government’s approval till March 2017. And, the proposal for 2084 hectare is yet to be forwarded by the Teesta authority. Similarly, the process in ISP in Andhra, SKD in Punjab and SNP in UP was delayed due to various administrative weaknesses and inability of States to reach a figure for rehabilitation due to submergence of villages. In the ISP, the Andhra government took five years to reject the farmers demand for cancellation of some land acquisition and so did the SNP suffer from similar reasons.
Additionally, it was found that funds to contractors were released beyond the agreement conditions. Various codal provisions were also not adhered to, leading to financial costs almost in each of the projects. But the CAG does not say if there was any corruption and instead speaks of poor contract management and undue assistance to contractors from public funds. Payments to them over and above the terms of agreement “was irregular”, it observes and adds: “This amounted to financial assistance to contractors from public funds”.
Such assistance, cost the exchequer at least Rs 102 crore and another Rs 225 crore on cost escalation, is what is on paper. The actual may be much more as “there is no assurance as to the transparency and objectivity of the process of selection of contractors, award of works and their execution”, says the CAG. The revision of agreements for relief and rehabilitation cost Rs 1332 crore and Rs 82.35 crore in interest payments due to delays.
Plus, there are major lacunae in monitoring by State agencies and a shortfall in technical inspection. Say, for the Sarayu project, excavated earth of canals was dumped in a haphazard manner resulting in it flowing back to the canals during rains, decreasing rate of water flow by 25 to 58 per cent. In Goshikhurd, catchment area treatment necessary for safety dam, maintenance and protection of downstream areas was neglected for eight years. The retaining walls were constructed in a defective manner, leading to its collapse in the middle of the canal during rains.
The CAG lays emphasis on adequate procedures for implementation, operation and maintenance so that the infrastructure created is safeguarded and beneficiaries are enriched. In fact, its observations give a cue to the rest of the 11 projects and Ganga cleaning. Recall, the Namami Ganga of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a process that was started in 1980s. Millions of rupees have flowed down the Ganga, but it has yet not been cleaned. The NGT observations are crucial as it also calls for investigating the issues.
The failure of the projects since 1975 is indeed an eye opener. The Ganga cleaning project needs to be reviewed and not rushed through in the light of the audit report. It must be reshaped to reduce delays, costs and siphoning of funds. This is a major task but not undoable as many nations in Europe and Southeast Asia have proven. —INFA