Guwahati: Construction of the Dhansiri Irrigation Project, billed to be the biggest in Assam, could not be completed in 46 years and the state government has now decided to shut it down, the Assembly was informed on Friday.

The initial expenditure which was estimated at Rs 15.83 crore has escalated to Rs 567.05 crore, Irrigation Minister Ashok Singhal said in reply to a question by UPPL MLA Gobinda Chandra Basumatary.

So far, Rs 444.18 crore has been spent on the project, the minister said.

Construction of the project had started in 1975 to create an irrigation potential of 77,230 hectares annually out of 38,615 hectares in Udalguri district, Singhal said.

“However, due to various reasons, the project has not been completed yet, the minister said.

The physical progress of the project is at present 94 per cent and it was targeted to be completed by March 2022, Singhal said.

“The current project is not in a state of revival. The old machinery has almost become junk with occasional repair works. So, we have to do a new project. The project will be closed down by the end of this fiscal. Otherwise, it is a never-ending process of construction and repair at the Dhansiri project,” Singhal said.

The minister said that the state government has decided to bring a reputed consultant from outside Assam to discuss the project and start a new one.

Explaining the project, he informed the House that the project was inter-linked with the 20 MW Dhansiri Hydroelectric Power Project, where five chute falls were constructed by the Irrigation Department.

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“The infrastructure for power generation was constructed by the erstwhile Assam State Electricity Board in November 1986 which could not achieve satisfactory progress and was suspended in 1996. The revival of the project was later taken up by Assam Power Project Development Company Ltd in 2013,” he added.

The ASEB had made a capital investment of Rs 37.72 crore in the small hydropower project, Singhal told the legislators.

The minister said there are various reasons for the delay of the project such as delay in design and model test in the initial period, several legal hurdles leading to cases at the Calcutta High Court, delay in permissions from Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan, and changing of contractor due to failure in meeting the target.

“The Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1985 immensely hampered the project work. Thereafter the Bodo Agitation till 1993 also retarded the progress of work. Also, it is to be mentioned that insurgency problem prevailed in the area at that time that caused hardship in carrying out fieldwork,” he added.

Frequent bandh calls given by various organisations in the region also added to the inordinate delay despite the government revising the completion target several times, Singhal said.

The progress of work received a further setback due to ethnic violence of August 2008 and October 2008 which became evident in the form of the labour crisis.

A major section of labourers expressed their reluctance to work at the project site,” he added.

Singhal said that the limited working season due to the onset of early monsoon in the region also delayed the timely construction of the project.

He said the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) had sanctioned a loan of Rs 116.01 crore for completion of the project in July 2020 and released Rs 109.10 crore to the Assam government in March 2021.

The Opposition Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) both alliance partners of the ruling BJP-led government – criticised the earlier dispensations for the huge delay in completion of the project, and sought punishment for the guilty.

Singhal said The Irrigation Department cannot punish anyone. We can take action against our engineers. But since 1975, many people involved in it have died. How can we take action against them?” 

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