Water Wars Loom Large In Maharashtra

A large part of Maharashtra has been declared drought-hit. But distribution of water is quite incongruous. While the few who are politically and financially powerful take the lion’s share for sugarcane crops, thermal plants and other industries, the rest are struggling to survive. The Government has failed to deal with the crisis, report Aparna Pallavi and Akshay Deshmane from the State…

water-warStark yellow hills surround a fodder camp at Salse village in Maharashtra’s Solapur district. In the afternoon heat, cattle desultorily munch on hard chunks of sugarcane, while farmers doze in nooks of shade. The picture of drought is dismal. But the lush green banana plantation barely 500 feet away is puzzling. “Maybe that farmer has a borewell,” says farmer Motiram Gadge. “Many powerful people here are growing banana and sugarcane despite the drought.” Gadge’s animals walk 14 kilometres every day to a fast-drying dam to drink water. On the face of it, the severe drought defies explanation. The drought-affected area received 60 to 70 per cent rainfall this year against the State average of 90 to 92 per cent. This is deficient but not deficient enough to cause drought of this magnitude. Fourteen districts in Marathwada, Khandesh and south Maharashtra have been declared drought-hit. More than 11,000 villages are facing water crisis and 3,905 villages have suffered more than 50 per cent crop loss.
Comparing this year’s drought to that in 1972, the most severe in recent history, Bharat Patankar, a senior drought mitigation and dam displacement activist, says the rich and the poor alike were forced to migrate in 1972. This time the landscape shows alternate patches of acute scarcity and abundance. Water-intensive cane and banana crops stand cheek-by-jowl with withered jowar seedlings. The failure of the rainfed jowar crop has caused a severe fodder crisis, but unlike 1972, sugarcane has not just survived but is in excess, and being fed to animals as fodder.
Unlike in 1972, the current drought is characterised by a severe drinking water crisis, both for humans and cattle. Significantly, villages with highest acreage of sugarcane are also the worse hit by drinking water crisis.
Like many other farmers, Rahul Kargode of Pali village in Beed district pays Rs 200 for 500 litres of drinking water to private tanker owners every second or third day. He uses the water to save his standing sugarcane crop. But his new sugarcane crop has withered. The borewell he had installed a few years ago has gone dry. In Pathrud village of Osmanabad district, Taramati Wadke, who runs a small eatery, shells out Rs 300 daily for 800 litres of tanker water. “The price has doubled since November. If it increases further I don’t know how I will pay,” she says.
This apart, unethical water consumption continues unabated even in the face of drought. While Aurangabad, Solapur and Beed districts reel from drinking water crisis, unscrupulous use of water in golf courses, water parks and swimming pools is rising every day. Parli thermal power plant in Beed was shut down in February due to water crisis, even as breweries and distilleries inAurangabad flourish. The biggest paradox, however, is that the drought has hit a State that has the largest network of dams in the country.

War over water
Thirty-six per cent of the country’s dams are in Maharashtra. But politically and financially powerful groups almost always grab the lion’s share of water. Conflicts exist between water users upstream and downstream, industry and agriculture, urban and rural users and even village-level political groups.
According to the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) Act, 2005, there should be equal distribution of water to all projects in a river basin during water crisis. In November 2012, water in Jayakwadi dam, on the Godavari river inAurangabad, dropped to two per cent of its storage capacity of 107 thousand million cubic feet (tmc).

The biggest paradox is that the drought has hit a State that has the largest network of dams in the country… Thirty-six per cent of the country’s dams are in Maharashtra. But politically and financially powerful groups almost always grab the lion’s share of water. Conflicts exist between water users upstream and downstream, industry and agriculture, urban and rural users and even village-level political groups.

But upstream dams in Pune and Nashik regions, which were 81 to 92 per cent full, did not release water. Jayakwadi dam supplies water to four cities, 200 villages, the 1,130-megawatt Parli power plant in Beed, and the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporations (MIDCs) in five districts. While Jayakwadi dam had less water for use, Ujni dam in southern Maharashtra, the third largest in Maharashtra, had not water that could be used. Again, upstream dams did not release water. Ujni provides water to Solapur town and about 40 villages.
Angry farmers and civil society groups launched a fierce agitation, asking for release of water even as they faced stiff resistance from political and farmers’ groups upstream. On November 27, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan asked for release of water to Jayakwadi. A total of 8.5 tmc was released from four dams, that too under heavy police protection. “The resistance is shocking. The water was not for industry or agriculture. It was for drinking,” says Vijay Diwan of non-profit Nisarga Mitra Mandal inAurangabad.
Ujni dam has not got water yet. The conflict is likely to intensify as summer progresses, says Diwan. The contenders upstream are the industrially advanced Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad cities, while downstream it is the powerful sugar lobby.
“Jayakwadi and Ujni were constructed to meet the water needs of people living near this arid region. Later, projects were sanctioned upstream, which diverted water to the water-rich parts of Pune and Nasik,” says Diwan. In the past 10 years, Jayakwadi has not filled up to its capacity. The conflict has defeated the purpose for which the two dams were built, he says.


Driver of the conflict
The fight is because of the legal mess in water governance, says Pradeep Purandare, former professor at the Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad. According to the Maharashtra Irrigation Act (MIA) of 1976, all irrigation projects and their command areas should be notified under it. Thirty-seven years later, the Act has not been implemented because their rules have not been framed. “The irrigation department does not have the power to take action and prevent water diversions from agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes like industry,” he says.
To complicate matters, in 2005 two water sector reform legislations—MWRRA Act and Management of Irrigation Systems by Farmers Act—were passed on the premise that MIA 1976 is brought into force. Besides, two water governance bodies were constituted—State Water Board and State Water Authority to prepare Integrated State Water Plan. Neither has held a meeting in the past eight years.
Even basic governance is difficult in absence of infrastructure, prescribed procedures for measuring water use, irrigated area, evaporation, siltation, conveyance loss and theft. But Pramod Mandade, State Deputy Secretary denies absence of a working mechanism. “Too precise mechanisms were not needed when there was ample water,” he says (see ‘All set for the summer?’).With no clear reference point for governance, malpractices have become easy, says Purandare. “The process of sanctioning projects is in the hands of unscrupulous politicians,” he alleges.

All Set For The Summer?

It is still many months before water-starved Maharashtragets rainfall. But Government officials say the situation is comfortable. “The State Government has already invested Rs 2,000 crore in relief measures,” says Milind Mhaiskar, State Secretary for Relief and Rehabilitation. “As many as 1,700 piped water projects are being set up in urban and rural areas to ensure drinking water. Fodder camps are also being set up. Another Rs 1,000 crore has been sanctioned for the remaining summer months,” he says. But the situation does not seem so hunky-dory. As per Government’s plan water for the new projects will be sourced from Jayakwadi and Ujni dams, which are already asking for water. Besides, if all is well, why did Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar announce that Maharashtra will buy water from Almatti dam in Karnataka to meet its drinking water requirement? Negotiations are on for this, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had said on March 2. On March 10, Government instructed the Mumbai police to prepare itself for a water-related conflict.
Source : DTE

Rs. 1,207 Cr Drought Relief Package To Maharashtra : Will It Bring Relief?

Maharashtra is the country’s biggest economy accounting for more than a tenth of India’s gross domestic product…

An Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on drought headed by Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has approved a Rs. 1,207 crore relief package to Maharashtra, as the State struggles to provide drinking water to thousands of people. “Rs. 1,207 crore drought relief package has been approved for Maharashtra,” Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who is also a member of the EGoM, said.
The country’s biggest sugar and pulses producer and second biggest producer of cotton and soybean is reeling under the worst drought in more than four decades, after receiving lower rainfall during the monsoon season June to September 2012. “There’s shortage of drinking water. The affected area has many dams but there was no rain in the catchment area,” said Pawar. It’s the second consecutive year of poor rains in the affected regions in Maharashtra. The answer is better irrigation.” Nearly 12,000 villages in the State have been affected by drought and the State Government has deployed nearly 2,500 tanker trucks to supply drinking water. Maharashtra is the country’s biggest economy accounting for more than a tenth of India’s gross domestic product.
Out of the total amount, Rs. 807 crore will be released under the National Disaster Relief Fund to 3,905 villages in the State where drought has affected rabi crops, sources said. The rest Rs. 400 crore will be released under the National HorticultureMission to 1,100 villages where drought has hit kharif crops, they said.
The Maharashtra Government had demanded a relief package of Rs. 1,801 crore under the National Disaster Relief Fund, but the Central team after assessing the situation recommended Rs. 872 crore. Last year, Rs. 778 crore was approved to the State under this fund to mitigate losses to crop.
Drought relief packages have been approved for Kerala and other States as well. Of the total 34 districts in Maharashtra, the worst- affected are Solapur, Ahmednagar, Sangli, Pune, Satara, Beed and Nashik. The situation is also serious in Buldhana, Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Aurangabad, Jalna, Jalgaon and Dhule districts, an official said.
Shortage of fodder has been prompting farmers in the State to feed cattle mature cane, but the lower sugar output in Maharashtra is unlikely to pull down the world’s biggest sugar consumer’s total output as the situation is better in the northern Uttar Pradesh State, the second biggest sugar producer. India’s sugar output is seen at 24 million tonnes in 2013/14 year starting from October 1, compared with 24.5 million tonnes this year, he added.
– Agencies


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