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Cloud hangs over 827 Rainwater Harvesting Plants For Schools under Tribal Development Project in Assam

What is even more shocking is that since the department failed to implement the project on time, the Centre stopped funding it. However, taking the importance of the project into account, Dispur kept an allocation of Rs 20 crore for the project in its 2018-19 budget

Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, Aug 3: Inept handling by the State WPT & BC (Welfare of Plain Tribes and Backward Classes) Department, it seems, is set to throw cold water on the Rs 20-crore special centrally-assisted 827 rainwater harvesting plants in as many schools in ITDP (Integrated Tribal Development Project) areas in the State.

It is a sad state of affairs when one does not know if the rainwater harvesting plants in 22 districts in ITDP areas in the State will at all see light of the day or not. The ITDP project was of fiscal 2014-15 during the Congress regime that failed to push it forward. Then the BJP-led coalition government came with Pramila Rani Brahma as the WPT&BC Minister. The department handed over the task of implementing the project to the State Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department that handed it over to Kuber Plastics Private Ltd through regular tendering. As though both WPT&BC and PHE departments slept like a rock that they came to know only on July 25, 2017 that the implementation status of the 827 rainwater harvesting plants in schools in ITDP areas was nil.

In the meantime, the PHE Department opted to wash its hand off the project prompting the WPT & BC Department to hand over the project to Assam State Housing Board (ASHB) in December 2017 for its implementation. On July 18, 2018 ASHB invited tenders for the implementation of the project only to cancel the tender, withdrawing itself from the project on July 30, 2018 for some ‘unavoidable reasons’.

When contacted by this reporter, a source in the ASHB said: “We had to back out from the project as the WPT & BC had stopped communication with us soon after handing over the project to us.”

A source in the WPT & DC Department told this reporter: “The tender issued by ASHB had shortcomings. They invited interested contractors for civil works but the experience in rainwater harvesting plant was not mentioned. When it was raised, the board snapped its ties with us.”

Delving deep into the matter, this reporter found that the cancellation of the tender by the ASHB has a different reason that is lethal enough to sever ties between the WPT & BC Department and the ASHB. The Rs 20-crore project got administrative approval in 2014-5 with a financial sanction of Rs 3.81 crore. The per unit project cost, as approved, was Rs 1.90 lakh.

If a project is not implemented within three years of its administrative approval, it needs fresh administrative approval before inviting tenders again. However, in the instant case, the ASHB issued tender for the project without any fresh administrative approval for it. This apart, the project lacks an exact guideline as to who will choose the beneficiary schools in ATDP areas.

What is even more shocking is that since the department failed to implement the project on time, the Centre stopped funding it. However, taking the importance of the project into account, Dispur kept an allocation of Rs 20 crore for the project in its 2018-19 budget.

In the changed scenario with a new minister heading WPT & BC, who will own the responsibility? Will new WPT&BC Minister Chandan Brahma do enough to implement the project?