Embarrassment for Nitish Kumar

Patna: The Bihar government was left red-faced when a part of a newly-constructed Rs 800-crore canal in Bhagalpur collapsed at the time of its trial run, hours before its scheduled inauguration by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, forcing him to cancel his trip to the city.

The accident resulted in inundation of several nearby areas. To make matter even worse, an underpass below the collapsed section passes through the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) township in Bhagalpur’s Kahalgaon, and water entered there as well.

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An official communiqué from the CM’s office said his proposed programme at Bhagalpur was cancelled due to “technical” reasons. The government has ordered a probe into the incident, though local sources blamed the collapse on poor quality of construction.

“The responsibility for the accident will be fixed, and appropriate action will be taken against those found at fault,” said a senior official.

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Talking about the canal, it is a part of Bateshwarsthan Ganga Pump Nahar Pariyojana, is a “lift irrigation project” in which water from the Ganga was to be released to irrigate over 20,000 hectares of agricultural land in and around Kahalgaon.

The project was sanctioned by the Planning Commission in 1977 at a cost of Rs 13.88 crore, but its last revised cost stood at Rs 828.80 crore. Parts of it are yet to be constructed.

“Water was being pumped into the canal since Tuesday morning for the trial. However, it could not withstand the pressure, and around 6 pm (on Tuesday), a 15-foot-long wall of the elevated portion of the canal caved in,” said a source in Bihar’s Water Resources Department (WRD).

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Nitish’s former ally RJD President Lalu Prasad Yadav and his son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav targeted the government, asking why the “scam” in the WRD was not being taken cognizance of. “Was it a canal of Rs 828 crore or a batasha (sweet) that it collapsed when water rushed in?” asked Lalu. “Why has Nitish shut his eyes to the corruption in the WRD?” asked Tejashwi.