What is Ghatal Master Plan for which Mamata is targeting the Centre?

The picture of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee standing in ankle-deep flood waters in Ghatal area of West Midnapore district and claiming that it is because of the delay caused by the Centre in releasing funds under the Ghatal Master Plan that the area is flooded went viral on Tuesday.

While many looked at the declaration as ‘political’, the proposal (for Ghatal Master Plan) is indeed pending for many years now.

The area has been witnessing massive floods owing to consistent heavy rainfall in the region and also because the catchment of the rivers in the upstream areas is bringing down additional flood waters for at least 8-10 days now.

However, this is not the first time that the Trinamool Congress has raised this demand. In June 2018, the Trinamool had claimed this to be “yet another example of the neglect shown by the Centre towards the state”.

The party had also claimed that earlier, the Centre and the state shared the cost ratio at 75:25, which after the Narendra Modi government came to power, was changed to 50:50.

“But in case of the Ghatal Master Plan, the Centre has not even allocated funds from its own share of 50 per cent,” the party had said then.

The Trinamool had then said that the master plan was drawn up to provide relief to the people. The plan includes construction of a 6-metre dam over Shilabati river and installation of a pump (with 5000 cusec capacity) in Ghatal.

This apart, desiltation work will be carried out at Old Kosi, New Kosi, Durgachoti and other rivers to increase navigability, under the master plan.

Repair work would also be carried out for several canals, it had claimed.

Not just Ghatal, the entire area is generally inundated most years as there are multiple rivers criss-crossing the landscape.

Damodar Mundeshwar, Dwarkeshwari, Rup Narayan, Ghatal and Shilabati rivers cause floods in East Bardhaman, West Bardhaman, West Midnapore, Hooghly, Howrah and South 24 Parganas districts.

As per official documents, the Ghatal Master Plan scheme is proposed to protect an area of 65,700 hectares with a population of approximately 8.5 lakh from Kangsabati, Silabati, Dwarkeswar and Rupnarayan rivers in West Midnapore and East Midnapore districts.

The proposed scheme envisages re-excavation of drainage rivers/channels and improvement of appurtenant embankments, construction of pump houses in the Ghatal municipal area, provision of regulators/major outfall sluices, construction of retaining wall like structure from the Vidyasagar Setu to 2 km downstream to protect the Ghatal municipal area on the left bank of Silabati river from flood spill, widening of waterways of existing bridges and construction of new bridges.

The dredging and de-silting work in five river channels was alone to cost Rs 400 crore that the state government had then decided to go ahead with, but it never took off.

In 2018, the Central Water Commission (CWC), an agency under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, pegged the cost of the total Ghatal management plan at Rs 1238.95 crore.

During a meeting at the CWC, the project authorities had claimed that only 20 hectares of land was to be acquired and that “there seems to be no problem in this regard”.

The minutes of the meeting that accepted the proposal, subject to West Bengal’s concurrence, clearly mentioned: “However, the acceptance of the proposal by the Advisory Committee of MoWR, RD & GR does not guarantee any eligibility towards release of fund under any existing scheme of MoWR, RD & GR such as PMKSY, RRR, FMP etc.”

RD and GR are River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, while PMKSY and FMP are acronyms for the various schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana and Flood Management Programme.

“The scheme was cleared techno-economically by our ministry, but then there was no investment clearance,” said CWC Director Sharad Chandra.

Banerjee has now again claimed that it is the Centre that is delaying the Plan.

Repeated attempts to seek response through text/WhatsApp messages from Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien went unanswered.