Rs 304 crore down a canal

Haryana’s Dadupur-Nalvi canal project is a shining example of how govts waste public money. In the last over three decades, the project linked to the SYL canal, sees humongous rise in land acquisition costs, and finally, its abandonment following the SYL fiasco

Rs 304 crore down a canal

CHANNEL OF INCOMPETENCE: The Dadupur-Nalvi canal is at present rain-fed. Its original objective was to get irrigation water from the now moribund SYL canal, and also recharge the groundwater. Tribune photos

Sushil Manav in Chandigarh

Sushil Manav in Chandigarh

Governments go around in circles, and don’t mind the wastage of time and money. Haryana’s Dadupur-Nalvi canal project is a case in point, where the government put the cart before the horse leaving the Khattar-led BJP government to blame both for inaction. Meanwhile, Rs 304 crore has gone down the drain, as flagged by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). 

The canal story began in the 1980s. The 72km proposed canal between Dadupur (Yamunanagar) and Nalvi (Kurukshetra) was supposed to carry water received in the under-construction Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. Over the years, the SYL lost its way in the long-drawn legal battles with Punjab. So, Dadupur-Nalvi, visualized as a perennial canal, has remained a channel for rain-fed water. The state government acquired 1,000 acres for the project, and built the main canals. The minors and distributaries have not seen the light of day.

Today, the Haryana government wants to scrap the entire project. But what happens to the land acquired and compensation ordered? Read on: 

Arjun, a farmer from Sudhail village of Yamunanagar, is heartbroken. His three-acre agricultural land was acquired for Rs 5.85 lakh per acre in 2005. He received an additional compensation of Rs 3 lakh per acre in 2009 after the Yamunanagar district and sessions court passed an order in favour of farmers like Arjun. The farmers then approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court for seeking further enhancement.

The High Court awarded the farmers Rs 1.16 crore per acre which, after addition of solatium (a compensation for emotional injury), other benefits and interest comes to over Rs 3 crore per acre.

The Haryana Cabinet on September 27 last year decided to scrap the project and return the land to farmers. What will Arjun and several others do? They have been sitting on an indefinite dharna against the government’s decision.

The state government, too, finds itself in a cleft stick. Many in the government think that it was not within the domain of the government to de-notify the project at this stage under existing laws. That could be the reason why even after nearly five months of the cabinet’s decision, it awaits legal sanctity.

In the court, there is a strange stalemate: the farmers allege that the government is not paying the compensation, while the government replies that the project stands scrapped and land de-notified, but is unable to produce any official notification. In some cases, courts have already attached properties of the irrigation department for its failure to pay the enhanced compensation.

Principal secretary (irrigation department) Anurag Rastogi says the government will soon come out with a notification scrapping the project. But he fails to explain the exact reasons for the delay in the department’s response before the court. He is also evasive over the provisions under which the government plans to issue the notification, because the existing laws do not provide for returning the land, particularly in this case where the  land was acquired way back in the 80’s.

Sources say the cabinet’s decision is based on legal opinion that refers to Section 101 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, for de-notifying/withdrawing the notification to acquire land under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

Section 101 refers to the return of the unutilized land — lying as such for five years — acquired under the Act. It says the land will be returned to the “original owner or owners or their legal heirs, as the case may be, or to the land-bank of the appropriate government by reversion in the manner as may be prescribed by the appropriate government.”

Legal experts whom The Tribune spoke to maintain that Section 101 does not apply to the Dadupur-Nalvi land as it is not an unutilized land.  Also, the Section refers to the land acquired under the 2013 Act, and not as per the old laws under which the land for Dadupur-Nalvi was acquired.

Sources say the government is awaiting President’s assent to an amendment Bill passed by the Assembly in March 2017. The Bill recommends incorporating Section 101-A in the Right to Fair Compensation Act, 2013 to provide the state government power to de-notify a land acquired for a project.

The state irrigation department wants the government to extend the validity of the Sept 27 cabinet decision to three more months, because any such decision has to be notified within this period. But mum is word from the government.

Dried-out, almost dead

  • Govt clears the project in 1985. Objective: Irrigation & recharging groundwater in Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra & Ambala 
  • Over 190 acres acquired during 1987-90. The previous Congress govt in 2005 again cleared the project. Cost: Rs 267.27 crore
  • For completion, 2246.53 acres were to be acquired. Out of this, the irrigation dept acquired 1,019.29 acres for main canals. The rest, needed for minors and distributaries, could never be acquired
  • Land acquisition cost Rs 75.98 crore. Plus, Rs 116.35 crore paid as enhancement as per lower court orders. So far Rs 192.33 crore paid to owners for 1,019.29 acres 
  • The govt also spent over Rs 111 crore on execution of these three channels, taking the expenditure to Rs 304 crore

Countdown to wastage

  • 1985: The project begins with land acquisition 
  • 2005: A complete irrigation scheme was approved 
  • 2016: The high court awards Rs 1.16 crore per acre plus incidental charges. That roughly comes to over Rs 3 crore per acre 
  • Sept 27, 2017: State cabinet decides to de-notify the project and return the land to owners. The notification is yet to be issued

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