River stories from Maharashtra: Many morals to learn
Parineeta Dandekar’s presentation began with an account of some statistics related to Maharashtra, the third largest state in India. Regarding the state of water resources in Maharashtra, she noted that of the five river basin systems, 55 percent of the dependable yield is available in the four river basins (Krishna, Godavari, Tapi and Narmada) east of the Western Ghats. These four river basins comprise 92 percent of the cultivable land and more than 60 percent of the population in rural areas. 45 percent of the state's water resources are from west flowing rivers which are mainly monsoon specific rivers emanating from the Western Ghats and draining into the Arabian Sea.
With 1821 large dams and more in the offing, Maharashtra has the maximum dams in the country (35.7%). However, the proportion of gross irrigated area vis a vis the gross cropped area at 17.8 percent is much lower than the national average of 44.6 percent. The contradictions from the state, which is home to the highest number of dams, were discussed. In nearly 70 percent of the state’s villages (around 27,600 villages), water is either not available within 500 metres distance, or within 15 metres below ground level or when available is not potable (World Bank, Promoting Agricultural Growth in Maharashtra, Volume 1, 2003).
Dandekar discussed the World Bank funded Maharashtra Water Sector Improvement Project (MWSIP) initiated in 2005 whose main components were establishment, operationalisation and capacity building of Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA); establishment of river basin agencies in Maharashtra; and restructuring and capacity building of the Water Resources Department. The MWRRA Act (2005) has been amended, taking out the clause for equitable water distribution, and granting the Cabinet the rights to have the last say about water entitlements. This has led to a diversion of water for irrigation from the vulnerable, suicide-prone Vidarbha region to thermal power plants. According to Prayas, “entitlements of more than 1500 MCM have been changed from agriculture to industries and cities”.