Jalyukt Shivar Yojana unsustainable, says study

Indiscriminate digging of farm ponds has accelerated groundwater extraction

Published - March 05, 2017 11:17 pm IST

Water woes: SANDRP says farm ponds at Hiwargaon village are aiding groundwater depletion.

Water woes: SANDRP says farm ponds at Hiwargaon village are aiding groundwater depletion.

Pune: The Maharashtra government’s flagship Jalyukt Shivar Yojana has been touted as a drought-proofing scheme, but a field study conducted by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) gives a different picture.

The organisation carried out the study at Hiwargaon-Pawasa, a backwater village with a population of 1,500, in Ahmadnagar district’s Sangamner Taluk. The research presents a microcosmic example of how indiscriminate digging of farm ponds has accelerated the rate of groundwater extraction.

The scheme was launched in December 2014 by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis-led State government with an objective to harvest rainwater and enhance groundwater levels. However, the project has run into stormy weather for its haphazard and unscientific implementation, undue reliance on machinery, lack of transparency and public participation.

Amruta Pradhan, a researcher with the SANDRP, said, “While the government is taking credit for providing a small scale irrigation facility at the farmers’ doorstep, it is reluctant to take the responsibility of their unsustainable use. Majority of the scheme work has been implemented unscientifically. While one can see water as of now, it does not mean groundwater recharge has taken place.”

Ms. Pradhan dismissed the usefulness of plastic-lined farm ponds, remarking they were just “another layer of exploitative unsustainable infrastructure,” which would only help accelerate the process of groundwater depletion.

Besides borewells, Pravara river (a tributary of Godavari river) is a major water source to the Hiwargaon village. Almost 80% of its ponds are dependent on groundwater, with most of them dug between 2012 and 2015 with the help of subsidies offered under the National Horticulture Mission (NHM).

The 300-odd ponds in the village are the main source of sustenance for the pomegranate-dependent agro economy. The arrival of ponds has led many farmers to shift to horticulture, with pomegranate cash-crop rapidly supplanting the traditional horsegram (bajra), wheat, pulses and onion crops.

Issues with the scheme

Most farmers in the village, as in western Maharashtra’s horticultural belt, swear by the farm ponds, unmindful, however, of the consequences of groundwater depletion owing to their unregulated construction and digging.

The SANDRP study revealed that none of the farm ponds in Hiwargaon had inlets and outlets or any other arrangement for excess rainwater inflow that was envisioned in the scheme. Instead of digging the ponds in a low-lying area, many of them are dug on the highest points of the farms.

It further noted that soil conservation is the key to groundwater recharge, but it has been omitted in the scheme.

Water conservationist Vijay Anna Borade said, “Any programme claiming to deal with recharging groundwater has to pay attention to the soil. If soil is conserved, groundwater is automatically recharged. In the Jalyukt Shivar works, soil, fine sand and all the medium which hold the water and percolate it have been scrapped. If the rocks are exposed, then how is the recharge supposed to take place?”

He added that the works under the scheme appeared to hold water, but would not recharge it.

Another problem with the farm ponds is that they expose the groundwater to losses through evaporation, something that may not become immediately apparent.

Ponds for all

According to data, around 13,950 ponds were dug between 2014 and 2016 under the NHM, the JSY and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, while nearly 24,700 more were under construction under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in 2016-17.

Till date, a staggering 1.6 lakh-odd applications have been received by local authorities under the ‘Magel Tyala Shet Tale (Farm Pond on Demand scheme)’ ever since Mr. Fadnavis launched it in February 2016.

Ms. Pradhan said, “The Jalyukt Shivar programme and its ancillaries are a quick fix that have failed. The government has not taken into account the massive amount of work that goes into involving people in carrying out watershed works. The Fadnavis government has also paid [little consideration] to the educative process regarding judicious use of water.”

While local authorities said they are aware of the concerns engendered by the indiscriminate digging of farm ponds, they find regulation impossible.

The sub-divisional officer of Sangamner said, “Once the farmer constructs the pond, it is impossible for us to tell him not to use it for groundwater storage.” Authorities said they were attempting to initiate dialogue with farmers in a bid to impress on them the judicious use of farm ponds.

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