The Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust in Shirdi will provide the “interest-free” loan worth Rs 500 crore to the Maharashtra government for constructing a canal network for a dam. The Nilwande Dam is located on Pravara River and is expected to benefit 182 villages in Sangamner, Akole, Rahata, Rahuri and Kopargaon talukas in Ahmednagar district and Sinnar in Nashik.
Mumbai/Shirdi, Dec 2: The Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust in Shirdi will provide the “interest-free” loan worth Rs 500 crore to the Maharashtra government for constructing a canal network for a dam. The Nilwande Dam is located on Pravara River and is expected to benefit 182 villages in Sangamner, Akole, Rahata, Rahuri and Kopargaon talukas in Ahmednagar district and Sinnar in Nashik.A senior official of the Trust said a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been signed with the state government’s Godawari-Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation (GMIDC) in this regard.“The trust will give Rs 500 crore for the project but will not charge any interest on it,” he said while refusing to divulge the details of tenure of repayment.The official said the temple trust provides money for social work regularly but the amount it had allocated for the Nilwande Dam was “huge” and a “rare thing“.A state Water Resources department official said the Nilwande Dam had begun storing water but the right and left bank canals needed to be built for it to be used for irrigation and drinking water purposes.The Nilwande Dam, this June, received Rs 2,232 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sanjivani Yojana.The Shirdi-based temple trust had earlier provided Rs 50 crore to the Maharashtra Airport Development Company for the construction of the Rs 350-crore airport there. The airport, located at Kakadi village, is now operational.Meanwhile, Kopargaon-based activist Sanjay Kale has opposed the move saying the outgo of funds will affect the development works undertaken by the Trust for devotees.He said the Trust’s decision will be challenged in the high court.“It is wrong to take funds from the Trust’s coffers.Due to this outgo of funds, the Trust will not be able to pay salaries of its 6,000 contractual employees, as Income Tax department had issued a notice to the Trust in the fiscal 2016 demanding Rs 183 crore,” he claimed.Kale said this dispute is currently pending in a court.“If the court rules against the Trust then it will have to pay Rs 1,300 crore towards income tax. In such a scenario, paying Rs 500 crore to the state government towards developing Nilwande dam would empty out the coffers of the Trust,” he said.Kale said the state government had sanctioned Rs 3,000 crore for the development of the Saibaba temple and Shirdi town during the centenary celebrations of the shrine, but has not released any money for the said purposes so far.“The government has not yet paid even a single rupee for the purposes, but instead took Rs 70 crore from the Trust for carrying out development works in Nagpur and the Vidarbha region,” he claimed.Kale alleged a lot of funds from the Trust’s coffer were “taken” by the government.“Construction of a dam and its canal network is supposed to be done by the government which should make necessary provision for funds. It is wrong to utilise funds of the Trust which is a donation given by devotees of Saibaba,” he said.Kale claimed even the high court had not given its sanction to utilise Rs 500 crore of the Trust for the Nilwande dam works. “We will go to high court”, he said.Kale further said he would file a criminal complaint against the state government and the trust for “giving a false information” on the number of devotees visiting the Saibaba shrine for the sake of securing the loan for the canal network.“The government had said that 60,000-70,000 devotees visit the famous temple per day while the number goes up during festivals to 3-3.5 lakh per day.“However, the Trust as well as the government are giving a false information and cheating devotees of Saibaba.Not more than one lakh devotees had visited the temple during a festival time. We will file a criminal complaint against the government and the Trust”, he said.It is known that the Trust has undertaken multi-crore projects which include construction of an educational complex, a medical college and a modern hospital.Advocate Sandeep Kulkarni, who had approached the Bombay High Court earlier for appointment of an IAS officer as the chairman of the Trust, said the Central government had sanctioned Rs 2,350 crore for the works related to the dam.“Despite this, the state government is demanding Rs 500 crore from the Trust as a non-interest loan. This will result into the Trust incurring heavy losses,” he said.Kulkarni said the welfare activities for devotees will get affected.“The daily expenses of the Trust is Rs 90 lakh. If the Trust realises its fixed deposit of Rs 2,200 crore, it will also lose the interest to the tune of Rs 130 crore. How could then they be able to pay salaries of the staff?” he questioned.The Trust chairman Suresh Haware said the decision to provide the “interest-free” loan to the state government had been taken by its members unanimously.“The construction of the canal network will ensure that 13 parched talukas in Ahmednagar district would get water for drinking. The move will also benefit thousands of farmers,” he said.