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Government Cautioned on Ar-Kacheri Irrigation Project
Far too often are governments and corporations making loop-holes through which they validate their decision to proceed with a unjustified project, failing to follow the proper guidelines for project approval. This is precisely why it is imperative that the people continue to hold these authorities accountable so as to prevent the unjust and mal-utilization of land. –comment by Web Editor, NAPM
NAGPUR: Already in doldrums for violating wildlife laws, the Ar-Kacheri larger minor irrigation project in Sonala in Buldhana district has got a new twist with Amravati divisional commissioner cautioning the government that unless the process under Rehabilitation Act is followed, starting the work on the project would be improper.
However, the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) has already spent Rs6 crore on Ar-Kacheri project.
On April 9, TOI was first to report how work on Ar-Kacheri, located 6km from the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) boundary and also in its buffer zone, was done without seeking permission from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
Any project falling within 10km radius of a protected area or its notified buffer zone has to seek permission from the NBWL and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The matter is being heard in the high court but forest department and NTCA has not filed a reply yet.
On June 12, Amravati divisional commissioner Ganesh Thakur had apprised principal secretary, relief and rehabilitation, that unless process of Sections 11 (1) and 13 (3) of the Maharashtra Project Affected Persons Rehabilitation Act, 1999 is completed work on any project should not start. Section 11 (1) and 13 (1) and (3) deals with notification of areas affected by the project and benefit zone and thereafter giving public notice inviting objections or suggestions land acquisition. For major irrigation projects, the time period is three years and one year for minor projects.
Thakur said that in case of Ar-Kacheri, the notification was issued on January 18, 2011. As there is tremendous opposition from the farmers for the project, the process of land acquisition under Sections 13 (1) and 13 (3) has not been completed in one year. Hence, the notification under Section 11 (1) has become null and void.
Affected farmers from Sonala village led by Ramdas Kothe and others, who have filed a PIL in the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court, have also approached the divisional commissioner to scrap the Ar-Kacheri project stating work on the project is illegal as proper processes were not followed. Besides, land acquisition is being done by middlemen and not the department.
Thakur admitted to have written a letter to the government. “First rehabilitation and then projects is the policy,” he said.
Executive engineer for minor irrigation department UM Padmane said, “We followed all processes and have already spent Rs6 crore on Ar-Kacheri. Work on the Rs50 crore project has been stalled as wildlife department has pulled the plug.”
Based on Thakur’s letter, the Buldhana district rehabilitation officer has sought report from the irrigation department on whether legal procedures were followed or not. Padmane said, “I’ll have to check up. I’ve not seen the said letter.”
Ar-Kacheri claims to irrigate 1,900 hectare land but farmers say 50% of the land, which will be affected, is already under well irrigation. Sonala farmers say the project was never demanded by them as already Wan medium irrigation project is situated just 5km upstream of the proposed project. The project may cause problems as the site has no hard strata which are generally needed to construct a dam.
“The project is being proposed simply in the name of wiping out irrigation backlog of Vidarbha in absence of actual demand of a project by the villagers,” Kothe said.