The management of water resources in India has always been a challenge. From the British era till now, the various governments that ruled India have grappled with the fundamental issue of water equity.
To address the water sector issues of the farmers in Maharashtra, the government has adopted Maharashtra State Water Policy, 2003 and has passed the following nine irrigation-related enactments:
1.Maharashtra Irrigation Act, 1976.
2.Mahrashtra Krishna Vally Irrigation Development Corporation Act, 1996
3.Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation Act,1997
4.Konkan Irrigation Development Cooperation Act, 1997.
5.Godawari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation Act, Maharashtra 1998.
6.Maharashtra Viderbha Irrigation Development Corporation Act, 1998.
7.Maharashtra Management of Irrigation Systems by Farmers Act, 2005.
8.Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Act, 2005.
9.Maharashtra Groundwater (Development & Management) Act, 2009
But even after the above laws and policies, farmers in the state are facing water crises.
Retired associate professor at Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Aurangabad, Pradeep Purandare, spoke to India Water Portal on the implementation of laws and policies related to the irrigation sector in Maharashtra.
There are nine laws and policies related to the irrigation sector in Maharashtra. Then, why is it that the lives of farmers in Maharashtra not improving?
The problem is not with the Acts but the improper implementation of laws. Though there are nine laws, only one Act has the rules. We are still going by the rules existed during the British regime. There is a lot of ambiguity in the implementation of the Acts because of the absence of clear rules and regulations.
What is the ambiguity in the legal framework that you are talking about?
Just enacting a law is not enough to address the issues of farmers. There is a need for clear rules, notifications, agreements, government resolutions, orders and circulars. For example, the Right to Information Act (RTI) has all the essential ingredients to help the common man in retrieving information from any government department. The RTI has framed clear rules regarding who will do what and has a proper institutional structure to address the public queries. In case, any authority is not abiding by the rules and regulations, then they have to bear the consequences, such as the termination of the services of the authorities in charge. We need a similar framework in the water sector also to improve the overall water sector in India.
Why is there a reluctance from the government to prepare the rules?
The government likes to take credit for preparing an Act but does not want rules because rules reduce its discretionary powers. Maharashtra Irrigation Act, 1976 does not have rules till date. In the implementation of Maharashtra Management of Irrigation Systems by Farmers Act, 2005, there is an ambiguity in the rules for water users association at a higher level. There has been a delay in the formation of sub committees, the water users association agreements are not yet executed, and there are many similar examples that speak volumes about the actual non-implementation of Acts in the state.
What are your views on the implementation of the Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority Act, 2005?
The effort of the government to bring this Act is commendable, but on the ground, the implementation of the law is yet to happen. There was a reluctance to frame rules when the Act was enacted. It took seven years for the government to just prepare the rules. That too, it happened only after an order to that effect by the high court. Those rules were then found to be not compatible with the Act and had to be withdrawn. There are thus no rules even today.
Even after the implementation of the MWRRA Act, the state water board and the state water council have not yet started functioning in the truest sense, and integrated state water plan (ISWP) is not yet prepared even after 10 years of its implementation. Under MWRRA, the surface and the groundwater use for all purposes like drinking, domestic, industrial and irrigation have to be regulated, but nothing significant has been done so far.
In October 2014, I filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court about the preparation of ISWP and operationalisation of the legal framework of MWRRA to make the government accountable to the people. The provisions in the MWRRA have the potential to establish a robust framework for good water governance to resolve water conflicts in the state. For example, the ongoing conflict regarding the release of water for Jayakwadi project can also be addressed in a better manner if the framework for water governance is in place.
What is the impact of the PIL?
On Jan 17, 2015, the chief minister of Maharashtra ordered to build a task force to fulfil the gaps in the legal process under MWRRA but even after the CM's intervention, the authorities have not taken any significant steps to strengthen the law. The high court has declared 191 projects, cleared by MWRRA in the absence of ISWP, as illegal. The court has also ordered that no administrative approval should be given to new projects till the preparation of ISWP.
How can we mitigate farmers’ problems in the country?
There is a need for good governance and political will to frame clear rules for every water-related Act in the country. Due to the lack of governance and political will, we cannot regulate the water sector in an equitable way. Water crimes are increasing, and farmers are not getting their share of water for irrigation purpose due to lack of rules and institutional structure. If the government is interested, then we have ample solutions to farmers’ problems in the country, but is the government listening?