NEW DELHI: All is not well between Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati. The water resources ministry, which was set to launch of the country’s first river interlinking project Ken-Betwa by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last week of June, was left high and dry at the eleventh hour. Chouhan seemingly scuttled it without even informing Bharati.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has now asked both to resolve the issue to avoid delay of such a huge project of national importance.
According to sources, the problem started when Chouhan went to the PMO and flagged his reservations about the implementation of the NDA government’s project connecting two rivers in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The project aims to bring water to drought-prone Bundelkhand region and provide irrigation for six lakh hectares of land in both the states at a cost of `16,000 crore.
The project has become a bone of contention between Bharati, a former Madhya Pradesh CM, and Chouhan, who will be seeking a fourth consecutive term next year. The project is very close to Bharati’s heart and she claims to have initiated it during her tenure as CM way back in 2003-04.
“Bharati was really taken aback by the whole event as the ministry was preparing for its mega launch by the PM. What irked her most is that the matter was being discussed for three years and Chouhan did not raise any objections during any interactions. But the CM strategically put his foot down when everything was in place for the launch,” sources added.
Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have to give no-objection certificates for the Cabinet to give a final clearance for the start of the project. While Uttar Pradesh has given its go-ahead, the project now hangs in suspense with Madhya Pradesh’s objection.
The first phase of the project recently got a nod from the environment ministry’s expert forest panel after months of persuasion as it involves diversion of forest land of Panna Tiger Reserve. The project is divided into two phases. The first phase has been cleared by NITI Aayog as a special project with 10:90 funding pattern between state and Centre.
A senior official of the Water Resources Ministry said the problem started when Chouhan demanded that the ministry combine the two phases and implements the same funding pattern. “This was denied by the water ministry as the second phase deals with industrial areas in Madhya Pradesh. Special funding was done for Phase I as it is a drought-prone area. Besides, it would delay the project as second phase projects have to seek all required clearances,” the official said.
The water ministry’s denial in turn irked Chouhan, who informed the PMO that the state doesn’t agree to the ministry’s provisions and thus cannot provide no-objection certificate if implemented in present form.