Water politics bleeds Marathwada dry

With 2012 being a bad rainfall year, districts like Jalna and Aurangabad are teetering on the edge of anarchy due to water-wars

March 02, 2013 11:44 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:16 pm IST - Jalna:

A dreary battle for water: Women and children from Chandan Jhira, a municipal ward in drought-hit Jalna district lining-up for the governemnt tanker. Photo: Special Arrangement

A dreary battle for water: Women and children from Chandan Jhira, a municipal ward in drought-hit Jalna district lining-up for the governemnt tanker. Photo: Special Arrangement

Sixty-year-old Pragyabhai Sawant exhibits bruises on her forearm while 8-year-old Geeta Mhaske points to a bandage on her forehead. The duo, who reside in the township of Jalna in Central Maharashtra, bear battle scars from jostling with other women for a pot of water. Chandan Jhira, like 54 other municipal wards in Jalna, sees a government water tanker once a week. Fifty per cent of urban Jalna has not had normal water supply for the last two months, depending solely on tankers.

The Jayakwadi project (that opened in 1976) was touted as the panacea for the irrigation woes of drought-prone Marathwada. But today, farmers and urban residents in this region are reeling under an unprecedented water crisis in a drought worse than the one that hit the State in 1972.

Water experts in this region allege that water politics played by satraps from Western Maharashtra over the decades has had a debilitating effect on the lives of the ordinary people in this region.

Post-Jayakwadi, the construction of several upstream dams and barrages on the Godavari in the Nashik and Ahmednagar districts by Ministers of the ruling Congress-NCP Democratic Front coalition has resulted in attenuating the flow of water entering Marathwada.

With 2012 being a bad rainfall year, districts in Marathwada like Jalna and Aurangabad are teetering on the edge of anarchy as water-wars and restive tempers play on the nerves of an indecisive administration.

Despite Jayakwadi having a sizable catchment area (21,774 sq km), a formidable portion of the water is intercepted by the 22 major and medium dams constructed in the Nashik (16) and Ahmednagar (6) districts.

“The Mukane [completed in 2004] and Nilwande [built in 2011] dams constructed to cater to the selfish needs of politicians … have ensured that waters remain captive in their constituencies, thus effectively preventing the release of the Godavari river water as stipulated in the sharing agreement,” said Vijay Diwan, member, Marathwada Statutory Development Board (MSDB).

Maharashtra’s Godavari water allocation is around 419 TMC, of which a maximum of 110 TMC could be harnessed upstream in Nashik and Ahmednagar districts, while 309 TMC could be utilised to easing the misery of people in five rain-fed and drought-prone districts in Marathwada — Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Nanded and Parbhani.

“The deal was that only 110 TMC of water should be harnessed upstream in the western districts. But the power and budgetary clout of the mandarins from that region ensured that around 194 TMC of water was harnessed,” said Mr. Diwan.

Today, the net water reserves of Jayakwadi are pegged at a perilous 1.54 TMC.

The dam suffers a deficit of 3.34 TMC of water to cater to the drinking, agricultural and industrial needs of Aurangabad and Jalna.

Further, the dead water stock of the dam has reduced to a mere 20 TMC owing to accumulation of silt during the last 37 years, leaving only 3.76 TMC water to be considered as utilisable till the end of July this year.

Last year, citizens of Jalna and Aurangabad demanded the immediate release of 27.5 TMC from the upstream reservoirs in a writ petition filed by the Marathwada Janata Vikas Parishad in the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court.

This 27.5 TMC would have catered to the drinking, agriculture and industrial needs of the townships of Aurangabad, Jalna and more than 400 villages in these two districts.

In a revealing reply that smacks of apathy, the State government in December 2012 submitted in its affidavit stating that the demand for releasing the 27.5 TMC of water was not “practically and technically feasible” owing to insufficient water available (17.9 TMC) for discharge in the upper reservoirs in the Nashik and the Ahmednagar districts.

Of the 17.9 TMC, the State government released only 9 TMC water (into Jayakwadi) after considering the requirement for drinking and industrial use in the upstream areas.

It stated that the remaining 8.9 TMC of water in the command of the upstream dams (Western Maharashtra) would give more crop productivity than releasing for Jayakwadi reservoirs as the latter would involve “huge transit and evaporation losses in the carrier [river] system.”

“In the simple interests of equity, why can’t a similar protective irrigation be accorded to standing crops in the downstream area?” said Pradeep Purandare, member, sub-committee on irrigation, MSDB.

The affidavit states that there would be huge transit losses and evaporation.

But such losses are more when one releases the surplus water in meagre proportions, contends Mr. Purandare.

Clause C of Section 12 (6) of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) Act provides for the “equitable sharing of distress in the river basin/sub-basin in a way that the water stored in the basin shall be controlled by the end of October so that the percentage of utilisable water for all reservoirs shall approximately be the same.”

Only 2.28 TMC of water was released from the upstream Bhandardara and Nilwande dams in the first phase in October last year, of which 1.1 TMC reached Jayakwadi.

According to Eknath Jogdand, the Superintending Engineer, Command Area Development Authority (Aurangabad), more release of surplus water could not be effected from upstream reservoirs owing to the lack of available water.

“It was eminently clear that the water situation in Marathwada was grim by October, yet the government dilly-dallied and released little water. Instead of being a fair regulator, the MWRRA has proved itself an ineffectual puppet dictated by the powers that be,” rues Mr. Purandare.

Experts and activists here argue that in reality, the first priority for the politicians of Western Maharashtra has and will always be to sate the industrial and agricultural needs of their constituencies.

“Only then does any water become ‘officially available’ from upstream,” notes Shriram Varudkar, a former member of the MSDB.

The situation has been further aggravated by the lopsided priority given to industry in a frantic bid to make backward Marathwada look sharp.

“The indiscriminate urbanisation of Aurangabad, with its vaunted MIDC and beer plants, has compounded our water woes overnight,” says Mr. Diwan.

Water transfusions to alleviate the crisis have been mainly piecemeal, often necessitating the Chief Minister’s intervention.

In November, owing to a providential overflow, 3 TMC from the Bhandardara dam was discharged, of which barely 40 per cent reached Jayakwadi.

With the situation slipping out of hand, experts here feel that the government is presenting technical hypotheses as pretexts.

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