What exactly is Maharashtra’s water policy?

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Apr 19, 2016 00:26 IST

What exactly is the water policy of our state? With several parts of Maharashtra hit by drought, the plight of people and the water being misused are the main issues that are under focus.

The use of water for Indian Premier League matches in the state or supplying water to the liquor units in drought-affected Marathwada region has come under severe criticism. While this is justified, what needs to be noted is the attitude of successive state governments towards water conservation, management and adopting new crop pattern to suit the changing climatic conditions. Year after year, several areas of the state have faced water shortage (some areas face it every year) but no effective measures have been adopted to check reckless use of water in both urban and rural areas and, more importantly, implementing water conservation projects.

As Marathwada (central Maharashtra) is facing one of the worst droughts in its history, questions are being raised over large-scale sowing of sugarcane by farmers and presence of more than 50 sugar factories in the region. While it is well known that sugarcane crop needs more water, why didn’t successive governments ensure large scale use of water-efficient technology such as drip irrigation by farmers?

The scheme to promote drip irrigation is available, with the government offering grants to install the same in farms but none of the governments took extra efforts to involve more sugarcane farmers to use the same.

As the sugar sector is being targeted over heavy use of water, politicians are pointing out that the cooperative sugar industry has been the backbone of rural economy in several parts of Maharashtra. They have a point but what they are conveniently ignoring is that they themselves are responsible for this. If they could get the farmers to turn to cash crop like sugarcane, they should have also encouraged them to use water-efficient ways to grow the crop.

Further, rarely did any government, barring the one headed by former chief minister late Sudhakarrao Naik, took serious efforts for water conservation measures though majority of Maharashtra gets heavy rains and a large chunk of it is wasted. Probably water conservation projects are not as attractive as big ticket irrigation projects. And we know why.

Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and also the present CM Devendra Fadnavis took initiatives to start water conservation schemes such as farm ponds and we will have to wait for a while to see the results. Had this happened much earlier, things would have been different in the state.

While drinking water supply to Latur through railway wagons is making the headlines, there has been no check on wastage of water in our cities. In cities such as Mumbai, many residents use precious drinking water in toilets, to wash vehicles, clean their homes and water their gardens. No government or civic body has taken an interest to prevent the misuse of drinking water.

While cities such as Chennai have adopted rainwater harvesting effectively, big cities in the state including Mumbai, Pune and Nashik never bothered to take these measures seriously.

Fourteen years ago, the Mumbai civic body in the city made rainwater harvesting compulsory for new constructions beyond a specific area. Out of 5,000 new constructions, only 1,848 made the provision for the same. It shows how seriously our authorities take the water conservation measures.

This makes us wonder, what exactly is state’s water management policy? There exists a water use policy but it does not have much to improve the situation. It lays down overall preference for water usage with drinking water followed by irrigation and then industry being the norm. There are no guidelines on how to use water during scarcity or when rains fail as they have been in certain areas consistently.

Recently, the government has appointed a committee of experts to work out an integrated water use plan which is anyway delayed by a decade. It will also delineate which areas should get what share from existing river basins and which areas really needs major dams. And even if a better policy is prepared, what is the guarantee that the same would be implemented? Or will we wait for another drought to take it seriously?

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