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A PIL filed in the Bombay High Court has alleged that an unholy nexus of contractors, officers and politicians has siphoned off a staggering amount of Rs 26,000 crore meant for irrigation projects in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

A division bench of justices Pratap Hardas and M L Tahaliyani has issued notices to the Union Government (which is financing the Gosikhurd project), Maharashtra Government and Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC), seeking replies within four weeks.

Activist Mohan Karemore, Amit Khot and city-based lawyer Bharti Dabhadkar, who is a member of Lokmanya Bapuji Aney Smarak Samiti, have filed the petition, seeking high-level inquiry into the scam and expeditious completion of irrigation projects.

The PIL cites newspaper reports about the alleged scam, involving sudden cost escalations, irregularities in grant of revised administrative approvals and twisting of norms in planning and execution.

Within a span of seven months in the year 2009, the cost of 38 irrigation projects executed by VIDC escalated by a whopping Rs 20,050.06 crore from the earlier Rs 6,672.27 crore, it alleges.

Of these 38 projects, 30 got sanction, — August 14, 2009 (11 projects), June 24, 2009 (10 projects), July 7, 2009 (5 projects), August 18, 2009 (4 projects).

The cost of six projects went up six times to 33 times of the original cost and in the case of 12 projects, the cost shot up by more than twice the original estimates.

Farmers of the regions were the ultimate sufferers, the PIL says, adding the irrigation backlog of the Vidarbha region has been cleared only on paper.

Due to “rampant corruption”, the cost of 38 minor irrigation projects escalated 270 per cent from Rs 244.22 crore in 2001 to Rs 672.31 crore, it says.

If the 36 projects, sanctioned in 2004 had been completed, it would have irrigated 4.91 lakh hectares of land, according to the petitioners.

The PIL also raises the issue of diversion of irrigation water for power plants, claiming that it would turn Vidarbha into a “desert” and the “most-polluted place”.

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