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MASSIVE WASTE OF WATER RESOURCES IN MAHARASHTRA

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
By Raju Vernekar

A combination of various factors leads to the poor status of irrigation in Maharashtra, even as the state is reeling under drought, with many reservoirs having only 25 percent water.

After the heavy deluge last month,  the state is presently going through a dry spell because of the absence of rains in  Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra with reservoirs in 12 out of 36 districts of Maharashtra, having only 25 percent water.

The state is facing one of its worst droughts with 24,000 of the 40,000 villages facing an acute water scarcity. Nearly 12,000 villages have been declared scarcity-prone and water is being supplied by tankers to these villages. The more alarming news, is the continuing dip in water reserves, alongside a huge spurt in digging of wells and bore wells.

Regardless of the vagaries of nature, on an average, the state annually receives 700 to 800 millimetres rainfall and it can survive even if it receives 350 millimetres rainfall, provided the water is conserved. But despite spending crores of rupees, most of the irrigation schemes have failed. Most of the experts are of the opinion that the politics in water distribution has made the situation worse.

Heavy Investment
By a rough estimate, Maharashtra has invested over Rs 80,000 crore in the irrigation sector since 1960. But not even 10 lakh hectare irrigation potential has been created. Nearly 64 projects have turned into dead investments with over Rs. 1750 crore going down the drain. Ironically the data on gross irrigated area is also not available from 2010 onwards.

The state’s 13 percent irrigation potential is far below the national average of  33 percent. Vidarbha and Marathwada are suffering due to the lack of irrigation facilities and the backlog spreads across 2.70 lakh hectares in Vidarbha alone. Nearly 270 irrigation projects are stuck owing to various reasons. 142 projects are stalled because of cost escalations, while another 119 are stuck owing to land acquisition issues. The Rs 7984 crore Gosikhurd major irrigation Project (located at Pauni in Bhandara district), remains non-operational in the  absence of canals thus affecting several lakh farmers across 2.5 lakh hectares of land in three districts of Bhandara, Nagpur and Chandrapur.

Jal Yukta Shivar Yojana
The state government has proposed an outlay of Rs.7,272 crore for Water Resources Department in 2015-16 under which 38 new irrigation projects are planned with an aim to create 700 Million Cubic Litre water storages and irrigate 69 thousand hectare land. Under  the “Jal Yukta Shivar Yojana” (water conservation scheme) 5000 villages are to be freed of drought every year. But this scheme should not be a repetition of Centrally-sponsored  “Command Area Development” programme since this programme has failed in several districts including Satara and Sangli.
 
Water requirement
Sugar cane farming consumes 80 per cent water in the state. The farmers in Maharashtra fall in three categories….those who receive water supply for 8 months in a year from irrigation projects, those who depend upon well water and those who are left to the mercy of rain gods.  80 per cent of over one crore farmers in the state, fall in the last category and eventually they are forced to go in for dry- land farming with only one crop in a year.
 
Farmers’ suicides
From 1995 till 2013, nearly 60,750 debt-ridden farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra. Those who commit suicide usually are small farmers. On an average marginal farmers possess land up to one hectare (two and half acres) whereas small farmers possess land up  to one to two hectares (five acres).

Gujarat/Rajasthan
Comparatively neighbouring Gujarat on an average receives 350 to 400 millimetres rainfall, but the Gujarat Government has set up a chain of over 1.50 lakh barrages ensuring continuous water supply. Resultantly farmers in Gujarat are able to follow three crop pattern of kharif, rabi and summer crops. It is important to note that Gujarat’s edible oil and milk industry thrives mainly on summer crop of groundnut and grass cultivation. Similarly Rajasthan receives hardly 100 to 150 millimetres rain, but Rajasthan has an extensive river system. The rivers  flourish during the monsoons and flow throughout the year. In fact Rajasthan’s irrigation depends mainly on its rivers.

Remedy
It has been proved time and again that Maharashtra which was once leading in agrarian revolution in the country has failed in irrigation and resultantly in handling agro-economy. Under the circumstances there could be three options...a) co-operative farming b) group farming and c) contract  farming. 
But going by the opposition to agro reforms, these options seem to be difficult to implement.  In view of this the only option would be to conserve more water or strictly implement drip-irrigation system.

It is to be noted here that the water shed development schemes implemented in Ralegan Siddhi and Hirve Bazar in Ahmednagar by Anna Hazare and Sarpanch Popatrao Pawar remain the best examples of water conservation in the country.

Vijay Pandhare
Vijay Pandhare, a former chief engineer in state irrigation department, who kicked up a controversy by writing to former chief minister that an amount of Rs 120 billion spent on irrigation projects in the state was a total waste since 99 per cent of the total 227 projects in Maharashtra were not working and 90 per cent never began functioning, says that,  “The Government should review the position of irrigation projects and stop investing money in irrigation projects. Even Dr Madhav Chitale Committee had stated that the projects involving an investment of Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000 should be stopped forthwith because they are unviable. What we need is small irrigation projects like the projects implemented on “Shirpur pattern” which has proved as the best water conservation method.

 “The depth of the small reservoirs should be increased. The water will be conserved only if it percolates down. It is surprising that no water can be stored beyond 1-1/2 mtrs in the multi-crore Gosikhurd project in Bhandara. In the last rainy season the entire left canal was washed out. Basically it is a holy nexus between politicians and contractors due to which crores of rupees are wasted on unviable irrigation projects.  Which party is in power is immaterial. It is a vicious circle and unless the system is changed, nothing can be achieved”.
 
Dr. Sharad Bhogale,
Former Director, Water and Land Management Institute,
Aurangabad

 “The water shortage in the state is mainly due to the unequitable distribution. The  Maharashtra Management of Irrigation System by Farmers Act 2005 was passed to ensure that water is distributed taking into consideration the suggestions by water users’ association. The act provides for farmers’ participation in the management of irrigation system. But I think act is not implemented properly, except on few projects like Mula Major irrigation project(Ahmednagar) and Waghad Medium Irrigation Project(Nashik). We also have the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) which aims at  equitable distribution of water to different categories. Even if MWRRA is allowed to function without interference, much could be achieved”.

“Besides there is no integrated approach. For example the irrigation department  looks after only the water supply for irrigation, Ground Water Survey and Development Agency will look after the status of ground water and Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran will be concerned only about drinking water.

Besides there is a pressure from different groups. For example sugar lobby will divert maximum water for sugar cane farming and industrial lobby will exert pressure for water supply to industrial plants. Ultimately the farmer is a helpless man who has no support. We will have to change all this and implement the water conservation scheme taking river basin as a unit”.

Suresh Khandale,
Additional Director, Ground Water Survey and Development Agency, Pune( GSDA), Pune
 “We totally depend upon rain water. When available, the water is used lavishly  rather it is wasted. It is not properly conserved and eventually the ground water level goes down.  The importance is not given even to the easy remedy like rain water harvesting. There should be total emphasis on harnessing and conserving water. Unless the water percolates down, the level of ground water will never increase. In any case an emphasis has to be laid on ‘water use efficiency’.”

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