Funds are flowing in Darjeeling hills for a water project but two administrative wings, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and the state public health engineering (PHE) department, are washing their hands of the responsibility as questions on the quality of work have started to rise.
Sources said that drinking water projects to the tune of Rs 1,200 crore are being implemented within the GTA area under the Jal Jeevan Mission which is funded both by the Centre and the state.
“The fund flow is huge this time. Earlier, the GTA would annually receive around Rs 10 crore for drinking water projects,” said an administrative source.
Jal Jeevan Mission is a pan-India project aimed at providing drinking water to every rural household by 2024.
With local residents and Opposition leaders raising questions about the quality of work, the Jal Jeevan Mission jobs have come under scrutiny.
Anit Thapa, the chief executive of the GTA, however, said that the Jal Jeevan Mission was not undertaken by the hill body.
“This is a project of the Centre and the state. The GTA is just monitoring the project as it falls within our (GTA) area,” said Thapa.
A senior GTA official explained that the Jal Jeevan Mission jobs are being taken up by the state PHE department through the Neora Valley water supply and maintenance division.
“They (Neora water division) call the tenders and make all the payments,” said a GTA official.
An official of the Neora water division, however, said that the project was being “implemented and monitored” by the GTA.
“We do call the tenders. However, the payments are made after the GTA engineers place certified bills before us. The project is being implemented and monitored by GTA,” said an official of the division.
The official was basically trying to drive home the message that the responsibility for checking the quality of work lies with the GTA engineers.
The GTA also has a PHE department.
When told about the division’s stand, the GTA said the state government issued an order on December 13, 2021, where it was clearly stated that the PHE department would “implement” the project in the hills.
“They draw up the DPR, they call the tender and make the payments. So how can they say that the GTA is implementing the project? Our engineers are assisting them as the Neora division does not have enough engineers to complete the project by 2024,” the GTA official clarified.
While the two administrative wings are passing the buck, Darjeeling MP Raju Bista has submitted a 50-page document to the Union Jalshakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekawat with complaints accompanied by videos of alleged poor quality of work.
The GTA and Neora division, however, defended the work in unison.
“Hardly any work has been completed and it is wrong to pass a comment now. There are provisions for a third-party inspection and multi-level screening of the project,” said an official of the Neora division. A GTA official gave a similar justification.
MP Bista said that the Union government assured him that the minister “will be calling for an independent third-party audit and investigations” of the ongoing projects in the region within 15 days.