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OPINION | Drought-Hit Maharashtra Needs Water Management, Governance and Regulation. But Who Cares?

The root cause remains the ever-increasing demand for water from the Nira project and stopping the excess water supply of water to Baramati, the bastion of Pawar, and Indapur.

Pradeep Purandare |

Updated:June 19, 2019, 10:25 AM IST
OPINION | Drought-Hit Maharashtra Needs Water Management, Governance and Regulation. But Who Cares?
Representative Image. (Reuters)

The BJP government in Maharashtra has diverted the Nira-Devghar dam water from Baramati to the drought-prone area of Solarpur, after newly elected BJP MP Ranjeet Naik Nimbalkar raised the issue in his constituency.

The allegation was that NCP chief Sharad Pawar had used his influence to change the distribution of water from Pune’s Nira-Devghar dam and at the heart of the crisis are two canals — the 1885-established Nira Left Bank Canal (NLBC) and the 1937-established Nira Right Bank Canal (NRBC), which for years have determined prosperity or inequality.

The root cause remains the ever-increasing demand for water from the Nira project and stopping the excess water supply of water to Baramati, the bastion of Pawar, and Indapur.

Consider the statistic provided by the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC) in its note, on the basis of which the order was issued.


Intensity of Irrigation (IOI) means induced scarcity. IOI 61% means every land holder in command area will get water to 61% of his land. That helps increase number of beneficiaries and command area.

The numbers point to a situation where the area actually irrigated by the canals is greater than the culturable command area or the total area that can be irrigated from the scheme and is fit for cultivation. At the same time, it adds that the actual area being used for sugarcane production has increased by 1053% in the right canal and 141% in the left canal.

So, how has this miracle has happened?

It is due to conjunctive use of surface and ground water, and use of water from different sources (river, reservoir, canal, wells etc) in the same command area. It simply means that NLBC and NRBC are using far more water than official allocation. If one goes into details of number of rotations, depth of application etc., it is obvious that actual irrigated area claimed is simply not possible within planned water use. The MKVDC on the one hand makes tall claims and on other hand admits in the said note that farmers from Sangola and Pandhrpur tehsils don’t get their due share of water.

The MKVDC note is in fact an admission that it has virtually no control over the unauthorised and illegal use of water in Nira Project. MKVDC, now a River Basin Agency since 2005 under MWRRA Act, has miserably failed in water governance and regulation. The Nira Deoghar episode confirms it.

Nira Deoghar project was administratively approved way back in 1984. But it is still incomplete even after 35 years and its water is being used by NLBC and NRBC. The reason is that the Nira Deoghar dam is complete. It has water. But since canals are incomplete, that water cannot be used in the command of Nira Deoghar.

Why are the canals are not ready? Is it negligent project planning or by design? Who proposed construction of Nira Deoghar canals on Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis? It was a clever move by those who were interested in the Nira Deoghar water. Obviously, there was a hue and cry against this attempt to privatise an irrigation project.

Prayas — a renowned NGO — fought tooth and nail against this move. Finally, MWRRA upheld the contention of Prayas and struck down the BOT proposal in 2008.

Though Prayas won the historic battle, it was a blessing in disguise for the proponents of BOT proposal. Their ulterior motive was to somehow delay the canals. They had the last laugh! In this background, the decision was taken to officially provide water from Nira Deoghar project to Baramati and Indapur up to 2017. There was no agreement as reported. This decision reportedly made distribution of Nira Deoghar water as follows — 60% water to NLBC (Baramati and Indapur) and 40% to NRBC (Phaltan, Malshirus, Sangola and Pandharpur).

Since political narrative has changed due to Loks Sabha elections, BJP leaders particularly from the Malshirus, Sangola and Pandharpur tehsils want increased share in Nira Deoghar waters and are up in arms against the dominance of Baramati. It appears that `Baramatikars’ for the first time are on the back foot. The masters of water politics had to say that one should not bring in politics in water.

Newly elected BJP MP from Madha constituency Ranjeetsinh Naik Nimbalkar demanded halting excess water to Baramati. Ranjeetsinh Mohite Patil, who has recently joined BJP, supported the demand. It would not be out of place to mention that Patil — originally an NCP leader from Akluj — is a staunch supporter of Nira-Bhima Stabilization Scheme (NBSS).

He, however, did not get necessary support for NBSS from the NCP. Strangely enough, the BJP when in opposition had also opposed the NBSS. Times have changed; the BJP apparently has changed its stand on NBSS or that’s what the perception of Mohite Patil is.

Whatever may be the contradictions and the consequent confusion, the internal consistency of vested interests is seen clearly.

In this background and keeping an eye on forthcoming assembly election in Maharashtra, Girish Mahajan, who has of late emerged as a troubleshooter for the BJP, has finally issued an order to stop excess water to Baramati and Indapur. This is perhaps a first-ever political action taken by the BJP against the irrigation scam which brought it on power.

Now, all this is politics of water. Drought-affected Maharashtra needs water management, governance and regulation. Who cares about it?

The author is former associate professor, WALMI, Aurangabad; former expert member, Marathwada (Statutory) Development Board; and former expert member, Integrated State Water Plan Committee. Views are personal

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