Maharashtra's elusive water plan

01 August 2016
Marathwada, a region in Maharashtra that has faced drought for 3 years in a row is finally receiving rainfall.
Dinodia/Getty Images
Marathwada, a region in Maharashtra that has faced drought for 3 years in a row is finally receiving rainfall.
Dinodia/Getty Images

This monsoon in Marathwada is a hopeful one—in most parts, there has been adequate rain. The year’s crop promises to make up for four years of drought in this region of Maharashtra.

Despite this optimism, the state remains unprepared to deal with droughts and their consequences. Most of the government's efforts at drought mitigation have simply been eyeball-grabbing gestures. Take the supply of water via railway wagons to Latur city. A year-long research study carried out jointly by Mumbai-based think tank Observer Research Foundation and NGO Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, showed that there were problems with distribution; Dalit bastis, settlements of nomadic communities, and slum dwellers did not receive water. Another instance is the deepening and widening of river beds under the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan, a state-government water conservation programme. In a PIL he filed on 18 May that was accepted by the National Green Tribunal, the Latur-based environmental lawyer Shriram Kulkarni deemed the programme “ecologically devastating.” Yet another example is the prohibitory orders around some water bodies in Latur that, in an attempt to prevent water riots, make it unlawful for more than five people to congregate around a water body.

All these measures ignore the core issue of drought management: that of having a credible estimation of water availability and planning around it.

Eleven years after the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) Act, despite three changes in government and raps from the Bombay High Court on orders following PILs, and four crushing years of drought later, Maharashtra still does not have an integrated state water plan.

The water plan is meant to provide a broad, overarching framework that will facilitate the functioning of all government departments and public bodies dealing with water—such as irrigation, agriculture, water resources, groundwater survey, water users’ cooperatives, among others. Suresh Kulkarni, the secretary of MWRRA, a quasi judicial body responsible for regulation, allocation, management and utilisation of limited water resources in the state, said, “If we had the plan in place and had worked according to it, the drought would not have had such a disastrous impact on people in the last three-four years.”

Aritra Bhattacharya is an independent journalist and a PhD scholar at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. He can be reached at aritra.bhattacharya@gmail.com and @b_aritra on Twitter and Instagram.

Keywords: Maharashtra drought Water crisis water management Drought relief
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