Barrage project in dire straits

Barrage project in dire straits The high cost of government-imposed environmental safeguards for the Subarnarekha barrage project in West Bengal's Midnapore district threatens to make the project "unviable".

The conditions, laid down by the Union ministry of environment and forests, will hike the project cost from the sanctioned estimate of Rs 226 crore to over Rs 400 crore. This is likely to have a crippling effect on the project especially in the face of World Bank's reluctance to renew its aid after funding the first phase of the Subarnarekha irrigation project spread across Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal.

The controversy over the ecological effect of the project and displacement of people in the 3 states has put off the World Bank. Says a bank official, "We stopped funding the project after 1989. Though fresh proposals have come from Bihar and Orissa for renewal of funding for the project we are not happy with those proposals. Nor do we have any plans of funding the West Bengal component."

The West Bengal state irrigation department officials in charge of the project claim that the conditionalities laid down by the MEF will be impossible to meet as the department does not have enough funds nor the expertise to execute the plan. The department is extremely critical of being burdened with the responsibility of implementing the environment management plan as a user agency.

The conditions laid down by the MEF include steps to check deforestation in the project's command area, annual survey of flora and fauna in the command area, large scale plantation and setting up an anti-poaching unit with trained personnel.