Barely 20km from Jayakwadi, one of Asia’s largest earthen dams, is Nanegaon village in Paithan taluka. Shrivelled sweet lime orchards, barren cotton fields, dried up wells and water tankers belie the fact that this village, like nearly 40 others, is within the vicinity of the largest water storage body in the state.
Even as Marathwada faces its fourth consecutive drought this year, the Nathsagar reservoir of the Jayakwadi dam is currently at its dead storage capacity of 330 million cubic meters (mcm), which is more than the live storage of the big four lakes that supply water to Mumbai. Dead storage is the level at which water cannot flow out of the dam sluice gates, but has to be pumped out.
Nanegaon has been waiting to get its share of the Jayakwadi water, promised via the Brahmgavhan lift irrigation scheme cleared six years ago. The long wait has hurt the farmers financially and taken the life of nearly 22 farmers in the region over the past two years. But the bigger tragedy that most farmers are unaware of is the Rs222-crore lift irrigation scheme, cleared in haste ahead of the 2009 Assembly polls, is not technically feasible.
Nanegaon’s story is similar to that of the entire region, where even as big dams get built, the promised water rarely reaches the beneficiaries. The reasons for these are varied —unrepaired canals, technically unsound irrigation projects and cornering of rightful share of water by politically strong western Maharashtra region. But it largely stems from the government and political apathy and corruption.
“Year after year, we wait in the hope that the government will budget the remaining money for the project and we will finally irrigate our fields. For the past one year, our village is being supplied water through tankers twice a day. Where is the water for crops when there isn’t enough to drink? When my sweet lime orchard turned into a wasteland last month, I felt like jumping into the Nathsagar reservoir,” said Ashok Sarjerao Mane, whose sweet lime orchard spread over one hectare has turned yellow, its fruit the size of dried lemons. Mane invested Rs8 lakh in pipelines, a few years after the ambitious lift irrigation project was planned, to draw water from the Kherda water tank, where the water from the scheme was to reach. Now, indebted like many others in the village, this is Mane’s third year without any income from the fields.
What Mane doesn’t know is that the lift irrigation scheme – like hundreds in Maharashtra - was cleared to aid contractors more than farmers. The special investigation team (SIT) report on Maharashtra’s multi-crore irrigation scam states the lift irrigation scheme with a potential to irrigate 18,790 hectares was planned and cleared without getting a water availability certificate from the engineers concerned, approval of the Central Water Commission (CWC) or the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA). In short, it was cleared without financial, technical or environmental scrutiny.
“The phase two of the project was planned even though the initial minor scheme running from 1994 had been able to achieve only 10 per cent of the projected irrigation target. The administrative approval note did not have the certificate on whether the required water could be lifted from Jayakwadi. The revised administrative approval was granted in July 2009 and had the executive director and the minister’s [NCP’s Ajit Pawar’s] signatures,” states the report. The SIT report makes it clear the project is unlikely to ever get water to these 41 villages,” said water expert Pradeep Purandare.