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Political hand in water crisis

Published On : 20 May 2016   |  Reported By : Courtesy : The Hindu   |  Pic On: Photo credit : The Hindu

Mumbai (The HIndu): Maharashtra’s Integrated State Water Plan was mandated a decade ago as per law, following the setting up of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) in 2006. But in the years since, sugarcane farmers have used political connections and legal challenges — which also buy time — to delay and thwart the MWRRA’s plans for equitable water distribution. Sugarcane farmers have also pleaded financial inability to switch to drip irrigation, despite repeated orders by the MWRRA.

For example, in October 2015 the MWRRA ordered the release of 10 tmc water from Pune’s water reservoirs to the Ujani dam in Solapur. This was challenged before the Bombay High Court, which stayed the order and also directed MWRRA member (technical) Suresh Sodal to step down, due to conflict of interest. The MWRRA, asked to review its October ruling, passed a second order that only reiterated its earlier order. But by then water levels in the reservoirs showed a 30 per cent depletion. A senior government official told The Hindu , “The water was diverted to sugar cane cultivations, to benefit powerful politicians from western Maharashtra including a senior Congress party leader's farmlands.” Currently, 70 per cent of Maharashtra’s water is used for agriculture, and over 60 per cent of that is used by sugarcane cultivators.

Section 15(3) of the MWRRA Act says, “The state water board, headed by a chief secretary (retired) shall prepare the draft integrated water plan […] submit the first draft to the council headed by the chief minister […] within six months from date on which the Act is made applicable in the state (2005).”

The senior government official told The Hindu , “In the last decade, what we have actually managed to prepare is a limited water integration plan for the Godavari basin, which was received by the state government only six months back. All the west-flowing rivers — Krishna, Narmada, Tapi — are covered under this basin.” Maharashtra gets an average of 164 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water annually through rains. It is allocated 126 bcm by interstate tribunals, besides 30 bcm of utilisable water from surface and groundwater sources, according to a MWRRA presentation on water pricing in the state that was released in April 2016.

The presentation, made by former (his tenure ended on April 22) MWRRA member, economy, Chitkala Zutshi, explains the water use by different sectors in the state. “While in 1996, 31.3 bcm (86.7 per cent of water available for use) was utilised for irrigation, 3.5 bcm (10 per cent) was used by domestic users and 1.5 bcm (four per cent) by industry. […]In 2012 the same three categories accounted for 31.1 bcm (79 per cent) for irrigation, 5.7 bcm by domestic and 2.8 bcm by industry. The projected usage by 2030 is pegged at 89.7 bcm (89 per cent) for irrigation, 7.2 bcm (seven per cent) for domestic use and 3.7 bcm (four per cent) for industry.”

Parinita Dandekar, convenor of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), says that at the lower Terna reservoir, 40 km from Latur, “the local sugar factory lifts 5000 lakh litres of water from this dam's dead storage.

When I asked dam officials at the site about this, they said industries had reservations, and this sugar factory had a reservation of 0.5 million cubic meters of water. Compare this with the exuberance shown by political parties and administration at securing a train carrying 5 lakh litres of water.” She adds that the current drought is as much due to the lack of transparency and equitable water allocation policy as it is about failing monsoon and plummeting ground water levels.

Another hindrance to the organised water plan for the state is that the MWRRA itself needs to be reconstituted: the tenures of all its three jury members expired in April 2016. A senior secretariat official told this paper that the state government has finalised a proposal for the appointment of chairperson.

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