In the aftermath of the multi-crore irrigation scam and nearly a decade after the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act (MWRRA) was enacted in 2005, the government is looking at a water use plan for the state.
This week, the state water council, which was set up under this Act in 2005 to oversee the plan, will hold its first meeting. The council, which is headed by the chief minister, has 17 members, including the water resources ministers, finance minister, urban development and industry ministry, tasked with ratifying an integrated plan for sustainable water management and distribution across regions and usages, including agriculture, industries and drinking water.
“In the future, all irrigation projects and dams will have to comply with the integrated water plan, so ad hoc announcement of projects can stop. This means, projects will be cleared not based on the insistence of the contractors’ lobby, but only when there is a real requirement. The plan will also look into the equitable distribution of water from river basins to put an end to regional politicking that takes place every time there is a scarcity,” said a senior official from the chief minister’s office (CMO).
It is learnt that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is keen on a fundamental shift in the handling of the irrigation sector in the state, in the light of the scam and getting this council active is a way to ensure this.
The irrigation scam had revealed that in hundreds of projects the MWRRA Act had remained solely on paper. A majority of the big projects were cleared, without the much-required scrutiny under the MWRRA Act. The lack of proper planning led to too many dams being taken up at one go without adequate funds, which in turn led to a huge loss of money and time, at the cost of public funds.
The Act had also mandated setting up of a state water board led by the chief secretary, which started holding meetings in 2013, and has held only five meetings so far. The integrated water plan has been in the making since 2009, and has only explored the Godavari river basin so far.
“Preparing an integrated state water plan is a pioneering work as no other state has done it so far. It includes mapping of river basins, ground water tables to arrive at the existing availability and deciding the future use. The focus will now shift from big dams to include even water conservation projects,” said a senior water resources official. The integrated water plan is to be revisited every five years. But the big challenge before the government is to prepare the first plan within a prescribed time limit and sticking to it.