Drought of equityAuthor(s): Aparna Pallavi, Akshay DeshmaneIssue Date: 2013-3-31A large part of Maharashtra has been declared drought-hit. But distribution of water is quiteincongruous. While the few who are politically and financially powerful take the lion’s sharefor 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 AkshayDeshmane from the stateStark yellow hillssurround a foddercamp at Salsevillage inMaharashtra’sSolapur district. Inthe afternoon heat,cattle desultorilymunch on hardchunks ofsugarcane, whilefarmers doze innooks of shade. Thepicture of drought isdismal. But the lushgreen bananaplantation barely500 feet away is puzzling.“Maybe that farmer has a borewell,” says farmer Motiram Gadge. “Many powerful peoplehere are growing banana and sugarcane despite the drought.” Gadge’s animals walk 14kilometres every day to a fast-drying dam to drink water.On the face of it, the severe drought defies explanation. The drought-affected area received60 to 70 per cent rainfall this year against the state average of 90 to 92 per cent. This isdeficient but not deficient enough to cause drought of this magnitude. Fourteen districts inMarathwada, Khandesh and south Maharashtra have been declared drought-hit. More than11,000 villages are facing water crisis and 3,905 villages have suffered more than 50 per centcrop loss.Figure 1A farmer goes down to the dry bed of Babhulgaon dam in Osmanabad to fetch hiscattle (Photo: Aparna Pallavi)
Comparing this year’s drought to that in 1972, the most severe in recent history, BharatPatankar, a senior drought mitigation and dam displacement activist, says the rich and thepoor alike were forced to migrate in 1972. This time the landscape shows alternate patches ofacute scarcity and abundance. Water-intensive cane and banana crops stand cheek-by-jowlwith withered jowar seedlings. The failure of the rainfed jowar crop has caused a severefodder crisis, but unlike 1972, sugarcane has not just survived but is in excess, and being fedto animals as fodder.Unlike in 1972, the current drought is characterised by a severe drinking water crisis, both forhumans and cattle. Significantly, villages with highest acreage of sugarcane are also theworse hit by drinking water crisis.All Set For The Summer?It is still many months before water-starved Maharashtra gets rainfall. But governmentofficials say the situation is comfortable. “The state government has already invested Rs2,000 crore in relief measures,” says Milind Mhaiskar, state secretary for relief andrehabilitation. “As many as 1,700 piped water projects are being set up in urban and ruralareas to ensure drinking water. Fodder camps are also being set up. Another Rs 1,000 crorehas been sanctioned for the remaining summer months,” he says. But the situation does notseem so hunky-dory. As per government’s plan water for the new projects will be sourcedfrom 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 fromAlmatti dam in Karnataka to meet its drinking water requirement? Negotiations are on forthis, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had said on March 2. On March 10, governmentinstructed the Mumbai police prepare itself for a water-related conflict.Like many other farmers, Rahul Kargode of Pali village in Beed district pays Rs 200 for 500litres of drinking water to private tanker owners every second or third day. He uses the waterto save his standing sugarcane crop. But his new sugarcane crop has withered. The borewellhe 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 tankerwater. “The price has doubled since November. If it increases further I don’t know how I willpay,” 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, unscrupuloususe of water in golf courses, water parks and swimming pools is rising every day. Parlithermal power plant in Beed was shut down in February due to water crisis, even asbreweries and distilleries in Aurangabad flourish. The biggest paradox, however, is that thedrought has hit a state that has the largest network of dams in the country.War Over WaterThirty-six per cent of the country’s dams are in Maharashtra. But politically and financiallypowerful 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 evenvillage-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 in Aurangabad, droppedto two per cent of its storage capacity of 107 thousand million cubic feet (tmc).But upstream dams in Pune and Nashik regions, which were 81 to 92 per cent full, did notrelease water. Jayakwadi dam supplies water to four cities, 200 villages, the 1,130-megawattParli 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 southernMaharashtra, 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 40villages.Angry farmers and civil society groups launched a fierce agitation, asking for release of watereven as they faced stiff resistance from political and farmers’ groups upstream. On November27, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan asked for release of water to Jayakwadi. A total of 8.5tmc was released from four dams, that too under heavy police protection. “The resistance isshocking. The water was not for industry or agriculture. It was for drinking,” says VijayDiwan of non-profit Nisarga Mitra Mandal in Aurangabad.Ujni dam has not got water yet. The conflict is likely to intensify as summer progresses, saysDiwan. The contenders upstream are the industrially advanced Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwadcities, while downstream it is the powerful sugar lobby.“Jayakwadi and Ujni were constructed to meet the water needs of people living near this aridregion. Later, projects were sanctioned upstream, which diverted water to the water-rich partsof Pune and Nasik,” says Diwan. In the past 10 years, Jayakwadi has not filled up to itscapacity. The conflict has defeated the purpose for which the two dams were built, he says.Driver Of The ConflictThe fight is because of the legal mess in water governance, says Pradeep Purandare, formerprofessor at the Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad. According to theMaharashtra Irrigation Act (MIA) of 1976, all irrigation projects and their command areasshould be notified under it. Thirty-seven years later, the Act has not been implementedbecause their rules have not been framed. “The irrigation department does not have the powerto take action and prevent water diversions from agricultural land for non-agriculturalpurposes like industry,” he says.To complicate matters, in 2005 two water sector reform legislations—MWRRA Act andManagement of Irrigation Systems by Farmers Act—were passed on the premise that MIA1976 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 hasheld a meeting in the past eight years.Even basic governance is difficult in absence of infrastructure, prescribed procedures formeasuring water use, irrigated area, evaporation, siltation, conveyance loss and theft. ButPramod Mandade, state deputy secretary denies absence of a working mechanism. “Tooprecise mechanisms were not needed when there was ample water,” he says (see ‘All set forthe summer?’).With no clear reference point for governance, malpractices have become easy, saysPurandare. “The process of sanctioning projects is in the hands of unscrupulous politicians,”he alleges.Engineer Of ScarcitySugarcane has sapped Maharashtra dry, but government is unwilling to curb its growthSugarcane has cutinto the acreage oftraditional milletcrops, crucial forfodderGhoti, a village inthe severelydrought-hit Solapurdistrict, is facingaccute drinkingwater crisis. It alsohas the dubiousdistinction of having6,000 borewells forits 3,000-odd residents and about 40 hectares (ha) of standing sugarcane crop. Till about 15years ago the village had no water worries. Things changed after two sugar factories were setup in the neighbouring Karmala and Barshi tehsils. Farmers started growing sugarcane inlarge tracts of land. Water that came from Ujni dam was enough for irrigation. But whenmonsoons failed in 2011 and 2012, they started drilling borewells in desperate bids to savetheir crops.Balasaheb Raut, who owns 2.4 ha in the village, has drilled six borewells. In Latur district,150 borewells are drilled every day. Water, that was once available four metres belowground, has plummetted to about 200 metres.Relief Activities
Rs 91 crore given to Jalna and Osmanabad for water supply schemesGovernment to pay lift irrigation electric bills for filling up water sources in Sangli andSatara from various irrigation projectsRs 413.98 crore to water supply department for supply during crisisRs 25 crore for transferring water from Tembhoo irrigation project to Birnal tank in SangliRs 25 lakh and Rs 1 crore respectively to district collectors to repair existing water supplyschemes and to create new ones2.136 tankers delivering water to 1,663 villages, 4,490 hamlets23,224 new works under MGNREGS for 223,000 workersMGNREGS wage raised to Rs 180553 fodder camps set up for 452,000 cattle in drought districtsRs 749.29 crore distributed for running fodder camps. Rs 329.73 crore spent till dateYet, six per cent of the state’s cultivated area is occupied by the water-guzzling sugarcane.One hectare of sugarcane ensures that at least four hectares of other crops are deprived ofwater. “Its water footprint is alarming,” says D M More, former director general of the stategovernment’s water resource department. “At present, sugarcane alone consumes waterequivalent to the total storage capacity of all dams in Maharashtra,” he says. More runs non-profit Maharashtra Sinchan Sahayog and has done a two-year study on the impact ofsugarcane crop in the state.Excessive digging of borewells is drying up acquifers. Villages that have standing sugarcanecrops are most likely the ones which are buying drinking water from private tanker owners,he says. “There is a growing feeling among people that they are being deprived of theirrightful share of drinking water even as others’ crop flourish,” says Madhav Chitale, head ofthe Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission, 1999.Sugarcane has also cut into the acreage of traditional millet crops, which are crucial forfodder, says Ramesh Bhise of Beed-based non-profit Jan Vikas, which works with marginalfarmers. “This accounts for the acute fodder crisis. This year, millet straw for fodder isfetching three times the price of sugarcane in the market.”Sugar Politics: Not So SweetThe second Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission 1999 recommends a cap on newsugar factories in water-deficit river basins, and shifting of sugar factories out of drought-prone areas. The 1999 Godbole committee, constituted to investigate sick sugar cooperatives,had made a similar recommendation. D K Pal, former head of Division of Soil Studies,
National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, Nagpur, says his institution hasrepeatedly recommended a return to traditional rainfed crops of the region such as legumeand oilseed. Canal irrigation, which is used to extend sugarcane acreage, is detrimental to aridsoil, he says. “In some districts such as Dhule and Ahmednagar, salinity caused by canecultivation has rendered huge patches of land unfit for cultivation.”But the government has ignored all such recommendations.Chitale admits that sugarcane has damaged the region’sagro-economy, fuelled drought and caused water-strife butdoes not say why the recommendations were ignored.Umakant Dangat, state agriculture commissioner, blamessugarcane for the drought but says agriculture departmentis helpless because its jurisdiction is limited torecommending drips and sprinklers for water conservation.The reason for this conspiracy of silence is the politicalclout sugar cooperatives wield. Almost all sugar factoriesin the state are controlled by powerful politicians. Thirteenof the 30 ministers in the state Cabinet are either sugarfactory owners or heads of sugar cooperatives. Policymeasures are, therefore, dictated by the sugar lobby.Figures are for the year 2009-2010 Source: VasantdadaSugar Institute, Pune (for sugar); Maharashtra AgricultureContingency Plans (for rainfall)Figures inmillion cubicmetres;Percentage ofstoragecapacity ofdams in the region Source: Maharashtra WaterResources Department“When proposals for dams are prepared, sugarfactories are not mentioned, though 90 per centof irrigation water is monopolised by sugarcanecultivation and sugar processing units,” saysDwarkanath Lohia, member of State WaterConservation Advisory Council.The number of sugar factories in the state hasincreased from 119 in 1999 to 200. Proposals toset up more factories in water-deficit areas arebeing considered by the Central government.
Since most of the sugar from Maharashtra is exported, Solapur collector K M Nagzode hadproposed that crushing of sugarcane should be suspended this year. Crushing one tonne ofsugarcane takes up400 litres of water.The proposal wasshot down bypoliticians.“Politics here iscontrolled entirelyby the sugar lobby,right from the village level,” says Bhise. “Politicians determine who will be the sarpanch,who will get big contracts and who will get irrigation water. This year, they have grabbedcontracts for running fodder camps, which should logically go to milk cooperatives,” he says.MeaninglessMeasuresThe stategovernmentproposes to remedythe situation byconverting allsugarcanecultivation fromflood to dripirrigation withinthree years. UnionAgricultureMinister SharadPawar hasannounced Rs 1,000crore for the purpose. According to More, drip irrigation is significant to prevent drought.However, he warns, the change will work only if the number of sugar factories are reducedand sugarcane acreage is redistributed rationally in the state. A major share should go to highrainfall Konkan and eastern Vidarbha regions where jaggery-making was traditionallypractised, he says.Sustainable AlternativeTwenty-two years ago, Suresh Desai designed a mulch-based sugarcane farming techniquethat reduced the crop’s water requirement. He reduced the irrigation channels in his farm byhalf and converted every alternate channel into beds of mulch using waste sugarcane straw.This brought down the crop’s water consumption. Within three months, the soil structureimproved and he was able to reduce the number of channels further, applying water to justResidents of Hastapokhri in Jalna district draw water from the lone well in the village. It haslittle more than silt left (Photo: Akshay Deshmane)
two channels for six rows of sugarcane. He also started intercropping legumes with cane.Desai, who now heads the Organic Farmers Club in Belgaum, Karnataka, says the techniqueis more effective than drip irrigation as it not only saves water and improves soil fertility, butalso needs no external inputs.“An upper limit for sugarcane acreage should be set for each farming family. At present, richfarmers have monopolised both sugarcane and irrigation,” says Lohia.“Farmers who shift to drip irrigation save money and use it to extend their sugarcaneacreage,” says Lohia. The State Economic Survey for 2011-12 reveals that subsidy worth Rs1,134.82 crore has been provided for installation of drips and sprinklers on 612,000 ha since2005. It has not increased the irrigated area.Farmers say that in a situation as severe as the current drought, drips do not work. In 2012,Savita and Malhari Deshmukh of Pisore village in Ahmadnagar invested Rs 1.25 lakh toconvert their 2.5-ha lemon and sweetlime orchards to drip irrigation.But their crops still do not get enough water. “We were banking on water from Kukkadicanal. Without it, the drip is wasted investment,” says Malhari.Organic farmers say drip farming requires huge investments and maintenance (see‘Sustainable alternative’). Besides, drip sets need to be replaced every few years.Industry Saves, TooMany companies have taken water conservation measures, but is it enough?Threat of a bigger crisis in the next few months has pushed industry to adopt waterconservation measures. “Unavailability of water cannot be an issue that should affectproduction. Treating and using recycled water is possible,” says Sushil Haksar, directorgeneral of Association of Distillers, Brewers and Vintners of India.Since the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation has made substantial cuts inwater supply, “the focus has shifted to conservation, monitoring wastage and recycling,” saysSunil Raithatha, president of Chamber of Marathwada Industries and Agriculture. “Ourmembers have reduced water consumption by 40-50 per cent,” he says.Crisis In Thermal PlantsVidarbha recieved average rainfall this year. But crisis in the next few years seems imminentconsidering the number of projects planned along the rivers in the state, says Sudhir Paliwal,joint secretary of Vidarbha Industries Association and convener of Vidarbha EnvironmentAction Group.As many as 140 thermal plants with a collective capacity of 55,000 MW have been plannedfor the region. “In Chandrapur district alone, 27 new plants are proposed along the Wardha,”says Yogiraj Doodhpachare, environment scientist at Janata Mahavidyalaya in Chandrapur.
Till date, power plants in Vidarbha have received a whopping 2,049 million cubic metre(mcm) from irrigation projects in the region.The state’s largest thermal plant, the 2,340-MW Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station,may face problems as its two new units will get operational by year- end, says Doodhpachare.Industrial water demand in Vidarbha is likely to rise too. In February, Chief MinisterPrithviraj Chavan announced many textile and cement units in the region. Maharashtra has ahistory of having skewed priorities. In its water policy, the state gave priority to industry overagriculture in making allocations in 2003. It was only in 2011 that agriculture was restored asthe second priority after drinking water.A study by Pune-based non-profit Prayas reveals the total volume of diversions since theinception of dam projects till 2010 in the state was 2,886.15 tmc, a whopping 77 per cent ofstorage capacity of all irrigation projects in the state. This means 257,000 ha agricultural landis water deprived. Fifty-four per cent of the diverted water has gone to industry. Of the 46 percent allocated for drinking water, 96 per cent went to urban area and just one per cent wasallocated for rural drinking water. Of the water diverted to industry, 61 per cent was for coal-based power plants. Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation got 21 per cent share,while SEZs have grabbed 16 per cent. The remaining two per cent water has been given toother industries.Jalna-based Rajouri Steels has a 7 metre private dam spread over 10 hectares. It has a 20-metre deep well for recharging groundwater. “Earlier, the dam would easily meet our annualwater requirement of 130 million litres. This year, due to scanty rainfall we faced watercrisis,” says D B Soni, the company’s managing director. Rajouri Steels is spending Rs 25-30lakh daily on about 150,000 litres of water supplied by private tankers. Due to the watercrisis, production has been hit by at least 25 per cent. To save water, the company has startedusing only half the power it gets during the day and is operating steel bar manufacturing plantat full power during the nights. Water requirement in the manufacturing process rises duringdaytime due to evaporation. To maintain moisture in the soil, the company has planted nearly2,000 trees in its compound.Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Limited has not faced water crisis this yearbecause it has raised the height of Irai dam by one metre to enhance storage. All its newplants have been designed with effluent treatment plants, says Anil Nandanwar, executivedirector of the power company. He, however, admits that since a large number of thermalplants have been proposed on the Wardha, there might be scarcity in future. As apecautionary measure all the new plants are designed for zero disposal through installation ofeffluent treatment plants to recover 100 per cent of the water used for ash disposal, saysNandanwar. The older plants are being upgraded with the installation of effluent treatmentplants.Many breweries have reduced their dependence on water tankers by using reverse osmosis(RO) plants. S G Patil, general manager at Radico N V Distilleries Maharashtra limited,
claims installation of a Rs 4 crore RO plant has helped cut time and water consumed duringthe fermentation process. Water recovered from the fermentation process is reused tomanufacture extra-nutrient alcohol, or spirit.In mid-February, Atul Singh, chairperson of FICCI Water Mission, said the mission plans toform a water disclosure framework where all industries will give details of the amount ofwater they use. “Emphasis will be on reduce, recycle and replenish water,” he says. Thisapart, research is being undertaken to devise a strategy and find innovative solutions tocounter the water challenges Maharashtra is facing, he says. A collaborative model is beingworked out where the government, industry and civil society will come together. It will becalled the Golden Triangle, he says. Only time will tell how effective all these measures willbe.A Watershed FailureIn the past 10 years Rs 60,000 crore has been spent on watershed developmentThe Kolapuri wier in Antarwali village, Osmanabad district, cannot store water because offaulty locationMaharashtra is a pioneering state in watershed development. It has conserved, regeneratedand judiciously managed its water resources in 12.6 million hectares (ha) of the state’s 24.1million ha that have 43,000 micro-watersheds. Development work has been done in 42 percent of Marathwada region, the worst affected by drought. Umakant Dangat, state agriculturecommissioner, says Rs 60,000 crore has been spent on watershed development in the past 10years. But these are all government data. Ground reality is quite different. Water-starved,poverty-stricken and migration-prone Gourwadi village in Beed district shows how the stategovernment has failed in watershed development work despite making huge expenditures.Gourwadi has twotanks to meet itswater requirements.The first is a five-minute walk fromwhere people live,and the second is200 metres down asteep, dangerousslope. People takethe difficult 2.5-kmtrack to fetchdrinking water fromthe second tankbecause the first one
is damaged and has been empty for years. “We have been asking government officials torepair the damaged tank so that drinking water is closeby, and for a mechanism to irrigatefarms from the second tank,” says former panchayat member Aba Dadarao Gadge.But in January this year, the agriculture department began work to set up a drinking waterpipeline at the second tank instead of repairing the damaged tank. Longer pipeline also meansmore expenditure. “There is enough water in the second tank for two crops, but now we arenot able to get even one decent crop,” he says. The ambitious drinking water pipeline projecthas now been abandoned.Gadge gives another instance of government’s callousness. Some six years ago, theagriculture department built contour trenches on the hills surrounding Gourwadi. It improvedmoisture in the soil, which helped agriculture. It also gave employment to people. However,the department did not care for its maintenance and now the trenches have silted. “Watersheddevelopment demands an integrated approach based on geo-hydrological characteristic of thewatershed,” says S B Varade, retired director of Water and Land Management Institute,Aurangabad. “It requires multiple treatments, including contour and compartment bunding,creation of vegetation to conserve moisture and construction of water-harvesting structures inthe right sequence from ridge to valley in a time-bound manner.”If watershed development work is properly carried out and groundwater recharge is effective,water storage for irrigation is the byproduct, says M N Khadse of non-profit Dharamitra,which has played a key role in implementation of watershed programmes in Vidarbha. Butgovernment’s watershed programmes concentrate mostly on construction of water-harvestingstructures. It is seen as an irrigation tool.“Government’s faulty approach creates false hopes and destroys people’s faith in theeffectiveness of watershed work,” says Khadse, who is also member of Maharashtra StateWater Conservation Advisory Council and Vidarbha Statutory Development Board.In absence of work many farmers take up watershed work under Mahatma Gandhi NationalRural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). But most projects under the scheme donot get completed, says Vijay Anna Borade, former member of the state Water ConservationAdvisory Council and engineer of the highly successful Kadwanchi watershed in Jalnadistrict (see ‘What ails rural job scheme’). Instances of Hiware Bazar in Ahmednagar wherepeople used the employment guarantee programme for water revival are rare (seehttp://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/4039 ).What Ails Rural Job SchemeThe Employment Guarantee Scheme has been in effect in Maharashtra since 1978. Work forwater and soil conservation is being undertaken under it ever since. The severe drought thisyear has exposed the failure of the scheme in the state.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS),launched in 2006, has failed because its focus is on providing employment, says Vijay AnnaBorade, former member of state Water Conservation Advisory Council. There is no emphasison completion of work. “People look at the scheme as a wage earner. They take up jobsduring lean time, but drop it when better jobs comes their way. There is no compulsion fromeither the implementing agency or the people to complete work,” says Borade.Data states the rate of asset creation has been poor (see table). Nitin Raut, state minister foremployment guarantee scheme, admits that completion rate is poor but says job at the time ofneed is itself helpful.The number of people willing to work under MGNREGS has also dropped. According toofficials of the department of rural development, during the 1972 statewide drought, 1.5million people had worked under the employment guarantee scheme. In 2012, the numberdropped to 0.25 million. This is because of low wages and delay in payments, says Borade.The approved wage of Rs 140 is much lower than the Rs 200-250 per day that labourers canearn elsewhere.Poor People’s ParticipationThe first concerted endeavour to involve people in decision-making was in 1989 through theIndo-German Watershed Development programme (IGWDP). The programme introducedinnovative mechanisms to ensure sustained community participation and transparency. It wasimplemented entirely through non-profits in coordination with gram sabhas. A villagewatershed committee, selected by the gram sabha, was in-charge of implementation andcontrol of funds. A fund was created for maintenance of structures.The programme was a success and in 1995, the government of India introduced guidelines forwatershed development under the Drought Prone Area Programme (DRAP) on similar lines.Non-profits were roped in as implementing agencies under the supervision of District RuralDevelopment Agencies (DRDAs). But the programme fizzled out because of DRDAs’ lack ofexperience with either watershed work or participatory approach. “Many people’srepresentatives, ministers among them, grabbed contracts by floating their own non-profits,”says Khadse.
Gourwadi villagedoes not havedrinking water, sothe governmentstarted setting up apipeline at a tank2.5 km away insteadof repairing adamaged tankclosebyIn 2003, theguidelines forHariyali, awatershed project,replaced non-profits with panchayat samitis as the implementation agencies and villagewatershed committees with gram panchayats. Gram sabhas now had little say in watershedwork. In 2008, the National Rainfed Area Authority again gave gram sabha the power toconstitute village watershed committees and nominate or elect office-bearers. Villagewatershed committees got the power to sanction funds. However, the post of the committee’ssecretary was a paid post. In 2009, the department of land resources launched IntegratedWatershed Management Programme. It was welcomed for its integrated and participatoryapproach and its renewed emphasis on capacity building. However, an order by theMaharashtra government in September 2012 brought things to square one. It vested the postof village watershed committee with the village sarpanch. The order was challenged in theNagpur and Aurangabad Benches of Bombay High Court. The Nagpur Bench has dismissedthe petition, while the Aurangabad bench has stayed the decision.Experts Recommend…Watershed work traditionally being a civil society domain, key implementation componentslike capacity-building of office-brearers, barefoot technologists and community itself shouldbe carried out through non-profits with proven watershed development expertise and integrityPower to constitute village water committees should be restored to the gram sabhaEntry point activities, livelihood-related activities and other components of Integrated WaterManagement Programme should be focused on watershed work to prevent funds from beingdiverted to other sectorsProjects should be completed in a time-bound manner with full community participationTransparent and comprehensive evaluation of watershed works should be carried out by thirdparty evaluators in a time-bound mannerEvaluation reports should be displayed in the public domain
“Now, contractors are always competing to head village watershed committees and grabwatershed contracts,” says Popatrao Pawar, water expert and sarpanch, Hiware Bazar. Deputysarpanch Govardhan Bhosale of Vida village in Beed district says he was nominated assecretary of village watershed committee in 2012. In the same breath he says that the lastgram sabha meeting was held in 2010.No Participation, No Result“We are constantly exhorted to make the watershed programme a success, but we do notknow how to do it,” says Uttam Gaikwad, resident of Vida in Beed district. “Office-bearersof the village watershed committee ignore our demand for training,” he says.Because of lack of people’s participation in decision-making, a lot of work is duplicated. InHastapokhari village in Jalna bunds constructed between 2004 and 2007 were removed byfarmers due to waterlogging. But fresh bunds are being constructed under MGNREGS.Five years ago in Ahmednagar’s Chicholi village, two new check dams worth Rs 10 lakhfailed due to poor construction. Now, the government is constructing two check dams, saysdeputy sarpanch Rohidas Patil.“Unless farmers are taken into confidence and their knowledge taken into account, work turnsout faulty and they get rid of it as soon as possible,” says watershed expert Dwarkanath Lohiaof Beed-based non-profit Manavlok.“This apart, machines have been permitted under the plea that they speed up work. But theyactually remove the community from the work scene and allow contractors and officials afree hand,” says Khadse.Without community consultation the bulk of watershed work carried out in the state isinferior, technically flawed, riddled with corruption and the number of incomplete work ishigh. Of the 1,609 projects undertaken since 1999 under Drought Prone Area Programme inMaharashtra, not one is complete despite 81 per cent of funds being released, data with theDepartment of Land Resources reveal. Under Integrated Watershed ManagementProgramme, only two out of 84 projects have been completed since 1999 after 83 per centrelease of funds. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have fared muchbetter on this front.Following complaints of shoddy work, in 2011 the divisional commissioner of Amravati setup a committee to evaluate watershed projects in the region. Fifty projects under variousschemes in five districts were randomly selected. All but four projects were inferior andtechnically unsound. Costs were unrealistically escalated in all projects, while most wereincomplete. The committee’s report, which had Khadse as a member, states that 90 per centof the check dams and 80 per cent of farm ponds were at incorrect locations. Measurementsof all bunds were faulty and compacting was not done. Drainage channels were notconstructed though contractors were paid for it. Drainage channels ensure that bunds do notbreak or cause waterlogging when it rains.
Significantly, despite orders from the divisional commissioner, the agriculture department hasnot produced any important project-related report, says Khadse. In Osmanabad, 960Kolhapuri wiers were constructed. None is working. Residents of Antarwali village toldDown To Earth that the wier fails to store water due to faulty location. “Mammoth amountsare spent on watershed development work, but the quantum of bad work has not beenevaluated properly,” says Varade.Meagre Funds“Government policy has never really recognised the importance of watershed work,” saysVishwambhar Chaudhari, Pune-based water activist. The stress is on surface irrigation fromdams. Merely Rs 12,000 per ha is allocated for watershed development compared to Rs 3.5lakh per ha for dam irrigation. “Even if water of all the dams in the state was used up, itwould irrigate 27 per cent of the agricultural area,” he says.The allocation is not enough for proper completion of work, says Varade. This apart, flow offunds is irregular, which slows down work. Varade is among several watershed experts whohave written to the government to hike fund to Rs 25,000 per ha.Diversion of the fund to purchase equipment that have nothing to do with watersheddevelopment worsens the situation. Residents of Vida got solar lamps, gym and libraryequipment from this fund. “Half of the solar lamps are now out of order. Other equipment arelocked inside the deputy sarpanch’s house,” says Gaikwad. At Ambhi in Osmanabad, 200cycle-mounted hoes are rusting with the panchayat. “Nobody needs them,” says PadmasinhaGatkal, head of village watershed committee.What Lies AheadThis year’s drought is, no doubt, man-made, caused by deliberate neglect and failure of theway we manage water and land. Within a few years, the Krishna and Godavari basins willhave substantially less water owing to climate change. Most irrigation projects areincomplete. With rapid urbanisation, water demand will go up. Groundwater recharge is amust even as cities and industries need to become water prudent. But we are going all wrongin our strategies. We have made drought perpetual—rain or no rain, money or no money.Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/drought-equity