From its 10-km long wall, the reservoir of Jayakwadi dam, the biggest irrigation project in Marathwada which is at the dead storage level, looks like an inexhaustible water body.
Tackling the fourth consecutive drought in Marathwada has gotten more challenging. Its storage, estimated at around 300 million cubic meters (mcm), the lowest in four decades, will have to be used to supply drinking water supply to four cities, industrial clusters and more than 500 villages until the start of the monsoon.
If the rains fail, one of the largest irrigation projects in the country may go dry.
This is not the first time the dam, planned in 1965 as a solution to Marathwada’s scarcity woes, with a gross storage of 2909 mcm and a potential to irrigate 2.6 lakh hectares is in dead storage.
Since it was commissioned in 1975, the Jayakwadi dam has reached the dead storage level — below 730 mcm — from where the water cannot flow out of the sluice gates and has to be pumped out for use – at least 10 times.
“The dam has not failed the people of Marathwada. It is the region’s political leadership that has failed. If Jayakwadi was to get its rightful share, half of the region’s water woes could have been arrested. It is the same story for other big dams in the region like Purna and Upper Penaganga. Dams built on the upstream of the project, often illegally, have cornered water meant for the region. Authorities’ failure to implement laws to ensure equitable distribution in river basins has only worsened the situation,” said Pradeep Purandare, retired professor with the Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad.
Consider this: Jayakwadi was designed to bring 2,292 million cubic metres of water from Godavari to Marathwada, but the region gets less than half the share thanks to the upstream dams built in politically influential Nashik and Ahmednagar districts. These dams take up 150 TMC of water, 35 TMC more than its share.
Officials admit that on an average only 30 per cent of the dam gets filled, so instead of the planned 81 TMC of water, Marathwada gets only 24 to 26 TMC of water, even with good rain.
A case in point could be the Nilwande or the Upper Pravara dam, one of the 12 big dams built on the upstream. This dam did not have the techno-economic clearance from the central water commission in 2015, nearly two decades after the project was commissioned.
Critics said while this dam may have been built for the drought-prone areas of Ahmednagar and Nashik, the water is likely to have been used first by influential sugarcane and grape growers and sugar mills owned by politicians, instead of farmers.
The dam benefits among other regions, Sangamner and Pravara Nagar, the home towns of two of the most politically influential politicians of the region —co-operative barons and former Congress ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil.
The dip in the quantity of water released downstream has a cascading effect on farmers spread across Aurangabad, Beed, Parbhani, Jalna and Nanded — five of the eight districts in the region — as the amount of water released through canals for these districts also reduces.
For instance, the Majalgaon project, built as phase II of Jayakwadi, was to bring 350 mcm of water to Beed district from Jayakwadi. In the past 30 years, the water has been released for the project only seven times.
On ground zero, farmers like Phulchand Borkar from Talnewadi village of Georai taluka of Beed district, suffer.
“The right bank canal runs outside our village and has been dry for the past four years. When water is released in the canals, it’s a good year. Our village is known to produce nearly 20 quintals of cotton from one acre. In the past two years, the produce has come down to two quintals an acre. At one point, ours was a well-to do village, but today we live on the subsidised food grain distributed by the government and tanker water,” said Borkar.
A report by the water resources department on Jayakwadi in 2010 states the average crop yield for at least seven main crops in its basin is around 50 per cent less than the potential yield, largely owing to the poor irrigation.
For instance, the cotton yield is 46 per cent of its potential, wheat 64 per cent of the potential and sugarcane is 67 per cent of its potential.
“Many farmers have committed suicide waiting for completion of canal works or lift irrigation schemes.,” said Rajan Kshirsagar, district secretary, Communist Party of India, Parbhani.
The picture of Marathwada’s irrigation systems reflects the failure of its biggest dam. Despite having 11 big dams, 75 medium projects and nearly 700 minor ones, irrigation potential has been created only for 10.5 lakh hectares of the 50 lakh hectares of cultivable area.
Irrigation potential is a misused word in the state, with actual irrigation achieved often less than the figure. In case of Marathwada, the actual land under irrigation is only 4.5 lakh hectares.
According to experts, the government is to blame for this “man-made calamity”, as it has failed to implement irrigation and water use laws and allowed politics to hijack the vital resource.
The state was the first in the country to enact the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act in 2005, following prodding by the World Bank. The law, however, has remained only on paper.
The appellate authority set up under the Act was to ensure equitable distribution of water in river basins, but the task remains unfulfilled in the absence of any clear guidelines or an integrated water plan.
Eleven years after the law was passed, steps have now be taken to work on an integrated state water plan, starting with the Godavari basin plan, which looks at the management of all water requirement for irrigation across regions.
The integrated state water plan is unlikely to be ready any time soon.