The Maharashtra government’s flagship scheme Jalyukt Shivar, touted as the remedy for drought, is allegedly being misused by private entities for unscientific methods of river excavation and deepening.
Launched with fanfare in 2014, the scheme was hailed as the panacea for the State’s water woes as it aimed at improving the groundwater and water-holding capacity of nullahs and river streams. While concerns were building up on the scheme’s execution, a petition challenging the poor monitoring of water works under way in the State has now been submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Latur resident and advocate Shriram Kulkarni moved a petition last month with the Western Zone Bench of the NGT against malpractices in the Manjra river work at Latur.
The petitioner sought immediate stay on the ongoing excavation as it may pose serious environmental threat to the existence of the river itself.
In his petition, Mr. Kulkarni said that a group of private parties has embarked on unauthorised deepening and widening of the Manjra stream as part of the Jalyukt Shivar scheme. The work on the river may pose a threat to the environment and natural river system.
Latur is among the worst drought-affected districts in Maharashtra and at the peak of its crisis, the government got a train to ferry water to the area. The Manjra, being the only river that flows through different parts of the district, is one of the major sources of water.
According to the government resolution on the Jalyukt Shivar scheme, a district-level committee headed by the Collector can take decisions related to the works under the scheme.
However, violating the principle, a ‘Jalyukt Latur Committee’ — a body comprising private entities, and no expert — has undertaken the work of deepening and widening streams of the Manjra.
“When we filed RTI applications seeking a draft plan of the work and approvals from the Collector or officer for the work, we were surprised that nothing of that sort was available,” Mr. Kulkarni told The Hindu . A number of government departments, including the water resources and agriculture department, had called for meticulously-calculated and carefully-planned excavation and deepening work with experts in and around river streams as it can cause danger.
Among a number of violations listed in the petition, the width of streams has been reduced from 120 metres to 80 metres, which may increase the velocity of river flow.
The excavated silt has been stored on both edges of the river at varying height; soft edges are created during deepening due to which water may directly enter farmlands; trees have been cut without permission; deepening is not homogeneous leading to opening of river acquifers; excessive deepening may also pose a threat to borewells and wells in the vicinity.
The petition claimed that no government department has detailed knowledge of the work. While all works under Jalyukta Shivar are supposed to be supervised daily, no such supervision is carried out at the Manjra.
“Who is liable to losses that may occur due to all this? Why didn’t the government stop work? It would be disastrous to farmers if the work continued,” said Mr. Kulkarni. The NGT has posted the matter for July 7.