Water for all, still a dream?

Peanut irrigation in India (Image Source: Seratobikiba via Wikimedia Commons)
Peanut irrigation in India (Image Source: Seratobikiba via Wikimedia Commons)

Irrigation in Maharashtra

The irrigation sector in Maharashtra is one of the largest in the country, but has been plagued with multiple problems. While the water availability in irrigation has been decreasing, the demand for water for irrigation continues to increase due to agricultural expansion and intensification.

The irrigation potential in Maharashtra has been estimated at 12.6 million ha - 8.5 million ha by surface water and 4.1 million ha by groundwater. Irrigation, is facing challenges of low utilisation of the created potential, low water use efficiency, poor O & M cost recovery, and overexploitation of groundwater.

Increasing urbanisation and industrialisation is leading to increasing water conflicts in the state, among irrigation and non-irrigation users, upstream and downstream users, between regions, gravity and lift irrigation schemes, food crops and cash crops, large irrigation projects and small water conservation structures.

Maharashtra has the maximum number of big dams of any state in India (35 percent of the total), the most expenditure on big dams (40 percent of the total) since Independence, but has the least amount of cropped area under irrigation (18 percent).

Irrigation Acts in Maharashtra

The state has enacted nine irrigation Acts, that provide for various aspects of irrigation like construction, operation & management, participatory irrigation management, water tariff, compensation & most important of all, control of water theft & unauthorized irrigation. These include the:

1. Maharashtra Irrigation Act, 1976 [MIA76]
2. Maharashtra Krishna Valley Irrigation Development Corporation Act, 1996 [IDC]
3.Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation Act,1997 [IDC]
4. Konkan Irrigation Development Cooperation Act, 1997. [IDC]
5. Godawari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation Act, Maharashtra 1998 [IDC]
6.Maharashtra Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation Act, 1998 [IDC].
7.Maharashtra Management of Irrigation Systems by Farmers Act, 2005 [MMISF]
8.Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Act, 2005 [MWRRA]
9.Maharashtra Groundwater (Development & Management) Act, 2009

Maharashtra Irrigation Act, 1976 - the parent Act

The Maharashtra Irrigation Act, 1976 is a parent Act because it provides the foundation, framework & structure for water management in the State through the following provisions:

  • Preparation of Rules [Sec 114] to provide for the operative part of the Act & give details of the day to day implementation of the Act.
  • Issuance of River Notification [Sec 11] to bring the river water under the legal  jurisdiction of the Water Resources Department [WRD]
  • Issuance of Command Notification [Sec 3] to legally intimate the beneficiaries that the Act & Rules of the WRD shall be applicable in the notified command area.
  • Issuance of Notification regarding Appointment of Canal Officers [Sec 8] to specify their jurisdiction  
  • Allotment of Duties to Canal officers [Sec 10] & their empowerment through delegation of powers to them under Sec 110.

Why is there a crisis in irrigation, inspite of the Acts?

The problem is not with the Acts, but with the poor implementation of laws. Though there are nine Acts, only one Act has the rules. All other Acts (IDC, MMISF & MWRRA Acts) take it for granted that MIA76 is in force & refer to the same time & again. Hence, implementation of IDC, MMISF & MWRRA Acts depends upon the implementation of MIA76.  

Enacting a law is not sufficient. The operative part which includes rules, notifications, agreements, government resolutions, orders & circulars as per the new Act is also equally important. If the operative part is not in place, then the Act remains on paper for all practical purposes.

Barring the exception of MMISF Act, it is unfortunate to note that all the other Acts (eight in number) do not have the rules. The process of issuing the notifications has also not been completed with respect to all rivers & commands. Canal officers, who are supposed to implement the water laws, have not been appointed & empowered in a prescribed manner.

A complicated legal situation

Rules of MIA76 have not been prepared even after 46 years from the enactment of the Act. Old Rules, namely Bombay Canal Rules, 1934 are still being followed. These old rules, which are not compatible with MIA76, are based on an old Act, namely the Bombay Irrigation Act, 1879 which has been repealed by MIA76 way back in 1976 itself. This has created a rather complicated legal situation in Maharashtra.

BCR,1934 – Bombay Canal Rules, 1934; BIA,1879 – Bombay Irrigation Act, 1879


It does not stop here. Since issuance of basic notifications (rivers, command areas & appointment of Canal Officers), is also incomplete, the locus standi of the implementing authority i.e. Water Resources Department (WRD), itself is questionable.

Absence of rules & notifications has obviously taken its toll. There is no water governance. A “free for all” situation exists in the State. “Bandobast/Jugad” has superseded efficient & equitable water management. Water theft, vandalism & tampering with canal system are rampant. Offences go un-punished. Irrigators, particularly the tail enders do not get water. Politically influential irrigators grab all the benefits. Diversion of water from irrigation to non-irrigation, flow irrigation to lift irrigation & food crops to cash crops becomes easy.

Since nothing is legally committed, nothing can legally be challenged. Those who somehow get water seldom get it in time & in the required quantity. Regular & timely canal maintenance is conspicuous by its absence. Arrears of water tariff are increasing. Diversion of water from irrigation to non-irrigation has increased. The situation is alarming.

On this background, can Maharashtra ever hope to implement MMISF Act & MWRRA Act which provides for PIM, bulk water supply on volumetric basis & water entitlement? Is the State 'legally' ready for such a basic change? If the parent Act itself is not implemented, it is only to be expected that all other Acts will also only remain on paper.

In view of above facts, it is clear that there is an urgent need to go back to the basics. Things need to be streamlined & disciplined on war footing in the larger interests of the water sector. Equitable distribution & efficient use of water and resolution of water conflicts  demand Rule of Law.

Is the government listening?

Pradeep Purandare, a Retired Associate Professor, Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Aurangabad has recently sent a letter to Maharashtra Legislature to point out that not preparing the Rules of the Irrigation Acts amounts to contempt of  Legislature and to request the legislature to take  a review of implementation of Irrigation Acts in Maharashtra. This is a short English version of Purandare’s main argument.

Purandare has served as the Former Member of  (1) Marathwada Development Board, (2) Committee for drafting MMISF Act & Rules, (3) Committee for preparing the Integrated State Water Plan  for Godavari Basin in Maharashtra, (4) Committee to Study the Krishna Floods, 2019.

A copy of the letter in Marathi is attached below: