Ministry board urges politicians to include water crisis in election manifesto 

The day long discussion was conducted to mark ‘Water for Peace’ the theme of World Water Day this year, that urges to focus on the critical role water plays in the stability of the state and its people. 

Updated - March 22, 2024 10:25 am IST

Published - March 22, 2024 08:18 am IST

The day-long discussion was conducted to mark ‘Water for Peace’ the theme of World Water Day 2024.

The day-long discussion was conducted to mark ‘Water for Peace’ the theme of World Water Day 2024. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Political parties must include the ‘water crisis’ in their election manifesto when climate change is a real daunting existential crisis, said Shashi Shekhar, former secretary, of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India at a day multi-stakeholder workshop titled, ‘Securing water in a time of climate change through natural ecosystems management’ held on March 21 in Mumbai organised by WOTR (Watershed Organisation Trust), Government of Maharashtra and India Climate Collaborative.

The day-long discussion was conducted to mark ‘Water for Peace’ the theme of World Water Day (March 22) this year, that urges to focus on the critical role water plays in the stability of the state and its people.  

“Year after year, the State is grappling with drought and water crisis. There should be conscience among all the political parties. Every MLA and MP must work for this looming crisis. We will collate our research work and presentation from today’s discussion and present it to the state government. Deputy Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis is a very progressive politician, we had had a round of discussion on this earlier and he sounded positive,” said Mr. Shekhar while speaking to The Hindu.  

“Maharashtra has 4000 dams that have dried up the rivers. Trillions of water is stored in reservoirs but how much is reaching to the farmers? Maharashtra never had sugarcane belt, it used to be Bihar, as this crop is not favourable to a dry climatic zone like Maharashtra. The government must preserve the natural ecosystem that includes wetlands, floodplains, mangroves and catchment areas; communities must do ground water supply and demand and canal irrigation should be converted into pipe and drip irrigation,” added Mr. Shekhar.  

As summer advances, water scarcity across Maharashtra is worsening. The year 2023-24, drought has been declared in 42 tehsils in the state. Due to low rainfall and heavy reliance on groundwater, 16 districts have seen a significant drop in their groundwater levels, as per Groundwater Survey and Development Agency, January 7, 2024. The Shirur block is the worst affected, with levels 5.41 meters below normal. In December last year, the water stock in dams was at 65% capacity and 440 tankers were plying across the state to meet the drinking water needs of the people.  

The water table in Maharashtra is sinking; as the state falls into the Deccan trap, the groundwater recharge will be slow, said Mr. Shekhar. “Farmers need to switch to drought resilience crops. Enormous investments in dams have yielded minimal benefits, stressing the need to revise the foundations of the water policy.”

Water management requires a holistic approach, beyond mere rainwater harvesting. It demands community-led initiatives, aided by government agencies employing remote sensing to identify optimal locations for such structures. Communities must understand their water resources to make informed decisions on usage, added Mr. Shekhar. 

Responding to suggestions of researchers and Mr. Shekhar, Abhijit B. Ghorpade, Director of State Climate Action Cell, Department of Environment and Climate Change, Government of Maharashtra, said that the government is ready to sit down with the researchers and experts and come up with an actionable strategy to deal with the water crisis in the State.

“We would like to have all the suggestions from the workshop and work with the experts who can be our guiding light to make this happen. In the coming days, we intend to plan the district and city action plan for the water crisis alone for Mumbai, Solapur, Nashik and Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar. I agree, we cannot have the luxury of having sugarcane cultivation that requires a lot of water.”  

Pravin Darade, Principal Secretary, Department of Environment said, “We invite NGOs to collaborate with us and leverage the funds available for such projects to achieve tangible results. Maharashtra has a robust infrastructure, including the Groundwater Survey and Development Agency, and we have conducted water budgeting exercises at the village level. However, it’s imperative to revitalize these committees and ensure their active involvement in water supply planning.”

The need to transition from water-intensive crops like sugarcane in drought-prone areas is apparent, added Mr. Darade. “We must explore alternatives that ensure farmers’ livelihoods while promoting sustainable water use. We have launched initiatives like the Chief Minister’s Environment and Sustainable Development Bamboo Mission and the State Action Plan for Climate Change, involving multiple departments and stakeholders. I urge everyone present to join hands in these endeavours, as we strive to reduce carbon emissions and combat rising temperatures,” he said.

Maharashtra’s obsession with achieving physical and financial targets led to the neglect of integrated strategies, said Anoop Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary, Agriculture, “While some successes continue, such as Maharashtra’s climate-resilient agriculture strategy, more collaborative efforts are needed to address the evolving impacts of climate change on agriculture. Past initiatives, like the watershed development programs of the 1990s, were collaborative endeavors involving NGOs, community-based organizations, and local stakeholders. People’s participation was key to Maharashtra’s success as a model state.”

However, somewhere along the line, we lost this balance, becoming overly fixated on groundwater-based engineering solutions at the expense of holistic watershed management, added Mr. Kumar. “We must transition from cash crops like sugarcane, which exacerbate water scarcity, towards more sustainable alternatives. Collaboration between policymakers, organizations like WOTR, and farmers is essential to tackle these challenges effectively.”  

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