Chief minister refuses to attend bhoomi poojan following allegations of irregularities
A project to divert a river in Katol town in Maharashtra's Nagpur district has been stalled amid high drama. The state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan who was to perform the bhoomi poojan ceremony on Tuesday cancelled the programme after irregularities and falsehoods surrounding the project proposal were brought to light. Chavan addressed the town residents and said that work on the project will start only after thorough investigation.
Two rivers, the Jaam and the Lendi, run through the Katol; and the latter joins the Jaam downstream of Katol. In 2005, the town's municipal council president Charansingh Thakur moved a proposal for diverting the Lendi river and linking it to the Jaam upstream of Katol. The Rs 25 crore proposal, which was approved by the revenue department, mentioned the Lendi river as a nullah. The reasons for the proposed diversion were given as prevention of frequent floods which had caused a significant number of deaths.
On October 22, after it was announced that Chavan would perform the bhoomi poojan of the project on October 25, town corporator Rahul Deshmukh organized a press conference to make some starling revelations. He said that information obtained through Right To Information (RTI) shows that contrary to the claims, linking of the two rivers upstream of Katol would actually increase the risk of floods in several areas of the city. He said that while all revenue records showed the Lendi to be a river, the proposal had mentioned it as a nullah to legalise its diversion. The flood problem in the town has also been highly exaggerated, and no relevant government department has any records of loss of life caused by floods in either of the two rivers.
Real motive for project
He also revealed that the actual motive behind the project was to raise the market price of Thakur’s family land. “Thakur and his family own some 25 hectares on the bank of the Lendi river, and the land reclaimed from diverting the river would make it possible to develop the area, so that the price of land would increase,” alleged Deshmukh. “Drastic measures like river diversion are out of all proportion compared to the actual magnitude of the flood problem, which can be taken care of with simple measures like protective walls in strategic areas.”
Following the press conference, on the night of October 23, Deshmukh also met the Chavan's associates in Nagpur and sent a message, appraising the chief minister of the truth of the matter, and also of the widespread popular discontent over the proposed diversion. After making inquiries, the chief minister cancelled the bhoomi poojan. He also took Thakur to task, say sources.
Addressing the public during a different event at Katol on October 25—the day of the proposed bhoomi poojan—the chief minister said that no project will be carried out for the personal gain of a few bigwigs, and announced that a thorough investigation into the river diversion project will be undertaken before work proceeds.
At present it is not clear if any official inquiry has been ordered into the project. Deshmukh says he will file a police complaint against Thakur and irrigation department officials for fraudulently obtaining clearance for the project. “The proposal is riddled with falsehoods,” he says. “Seventeen ha of irrigated farm land to be acquired for the project has been shown as dry-land. Several important sites to be affected by the project, including a railway line and a temple of archaeological significance, have not been mentioned at all.”
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