Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday said there was no dearth of funds at the Centre for the Polavaram project but quickly added that the state would have to justify the escalation of cost for each component with the proof of documents.
After visiting the project site along with Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, Gadkari, while saying that he was for the project and that he would not mix politics with development, pointed out that the state would have to do a lot of explaining before it sought funds for the Polavaram project.
While saying that he would cooperate with the state in releasing funds, Gadkari, however, made the process look very convoluted and tortuous, pricking the balloon of hope of early completion of the project.
He seemed to have paid a Chinese compliment to Naidu saying that the progress of works impressed him most but wondered if the state would be able to complete the civil works when he visits the project once again in the first week of April next year.
Gadkari requested the Chief Minister to send his team of officials to Delhi and make them camp there to provide the necessary information and evidence justifying the increase in estimates both for civil works and land acquisition. He asked the Central Water Commission chairman to interact with the state government officials on a regular basis to help in resolution of issues at the earliest.
The Central minister also requested the Chief Minister to visit New Delhi and stay there for four days to help build a strong case for increase in estimates. “I will give time for you as well as our staff. Within eight days, complete all the procedures. Send the documents to me. I will clear them and then send them to the Finance Ministry for clearance since for every instance of cost escalation, permission of the Finance Ministry is required.”
“I will fix a meeting with the Finance Minister to sort out the escalation issue. In this meeting, the Chief Minister, Union Finance Minister, Union Water Resource Minister will participate,” he said. On the request of the Chief Minister to release funds in advance, Gadkari said he would need the approval from the Finance Minister.”
The escalation in the cost of civil works and that of RR requires approval form the Finance Ministry,” he said, adding: “Money is not a problem. There is a lot of money in PM Sanchay Yojana,” he said. Referring to the Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RR) package, the Union minister said the estimate has more than doubled to Rs 33,000 crore. The state would have to convince the Centre why the estimate has gone up. It appears the inflated cost is due to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 which has enhanced the compensation payable to the oustees and increase in the extent of land acquired.
Gadkari made a conscientious effort to send out a message that Polavaram belongs to the Centre and not to the state. “The Central government’s prestige is involved in it and not that of the state. We will surely pay the contractors. It is our project,” he said.
He said the project drew the strength from the political will of AP CM Chandrababu Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We are on the same page as far as development is concerned. We are committed for the completion of the project. We understand the importance of water. It is national project, and it is our responsibility,” he said. Gadkari blamed technical issues for the delay in release of funds for the project.
He dismissed as baseless the allegation that because of political differences, the project is being delayed. “We don’t mix politics with development,” he said. Chandrababu Naidu said that land acquisition and R and R package have increased because of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. “As regards civil works, we will provide all details. The extent of submergence depends on the height of the project.