In a turnaround from the two-decade-old emphasis that led to the construction of big dams to provide irrigation to farmers, the Maharashtra government is now looking at water conservation methods to support agriculturists.
Big dams and irrigation projects will now be constructed largely to support the drinking water supply needs of cities and upcoming towns in addition to industrial purposes.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has put his weight behind the flagship Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan aimed at freeing Maharashtra from drought, said that water conservation had the potential to increase the irrigation potential created in the state from 18% to 40% in just five years.
It is a big leap, considering the Congress-NCP government failed to increase irrigation created by more than 5% in the state despite investing nearly Rs42,500 crore for big irrigation projects in the past decade.
“Well-known water expert Madhav Chitale had in his earlier reports recommended that the state should focus as much on water conservation as on building dams, but that never happened,’’ said Fadnavis.
The chief minister, however, added that this did not mean the state would rule out flow irrigation from dams. “We need to create more water storage and we need flow irrigation for industry as well as catering to the needs of cities and towns.”
Experts, however, said that the bigger issue before the state is how to tackle the mess it has inherited from the previous regime. The state has nearly Rs78,000 crore worth of incomplete irrigation projects.
“We are carrying out an audit of incomplete dams in Vidarbha and have so far toured seven projects. We have found that most of these projects including the state’s biggest dam Gosikhurd is in an abysmal condition with canal works abandoned or in a shoddy state. In some cases, dams have been built but its capacity is less than half envisioned during design stage,’’ said Anil Kilore, president of non-political social organisation Janmanch that had filed the landmark petition on irrigation scam in the state.
Kilore will now get an exhibition on the state of the incomplete projects to Mumbai next week during the last week of the monsoon session of the state legislature to highlight the crisis.
Fadnavis is keen on taking a leaf from Madhya Pradesh to address this issue by focusing on last mile connectivity and fast tracking 75% complete projects. But, he admits this is easier said than done.