Drought and Failure of Policy in Maharashtra - May 10, 2016

The severe drought and water scarcity in various parts of Maharashtra has brought the issue of mismanagement of water resources to the fore once again. In the last fifty years, there has been ample discussion on various forums about the possible measures to deal with the issue of water scarcity in Maharashtra. The Government of Maharashtra constituted many committees and two commissions (Maharashtra State Irrigation Commission in 1962 and Chitale Commission in 1999) to solve the problem of drought and inadequate irrigation. These committees suggested various measures to improve water availability and management, such as equitable water distribution in irrigated areas, provision of water on volumetric basis, drip irrigation for sugarcane and other cash crops, restricting the provision of water to sugarcane, use of water for kharip and rabbi crops on priority basis, measuring productivity of agriculture in terms of water used instead of land acreage etc. The experts have emphasized the need to increase irrigation facilities to offset limitation of rain fed agriculture; the estimation of land that could be brought under irrigation vary from 30% to 72%.

The experience in the past, however, displays utter failure of policy in the water sector in Maharashtra. The state has the highest number of large dams in India (1845), but land under irrigation is only 18% (the all-India average is 45%). Even though technical and managerial solutions were available, various governments chose not to adopt them as it could have upset the entrenched interests in the sector. The political clout of sugar industry in Maharashtra ensured continued misappropriation of water and contributed to unequal development in the state. The Maharashtra Irrigation Act of 1976, which has many progressive provisions such as regulation of crop pattern in irrigated area and powers to canal officer to prevent misuse of water, was never implemented because the government did not make rules necessary to implement it.

The government introduced water sector reforms in 2005 under the aegis of the World Bank and established ‘Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority’ (MWRRA) to regulate the water sector in Maharashtra. However, the experience of the functioning of the MWRRA is not very encouraging so far. The political establishment undermined the authority of the MWRRA time and again and it seems difficult that the MWRRA would be able to implement the radical provisions in the Act. On this background, it is interesting to see if the current crisis, which also affects cities, can push the government to implement the existing policy and legal measures.

- Prof. Kalpana Dixit