Tackling water crisis, the Maharashtra way

Novel scheme fires farmers’ imagination in perennially drought-hit areas

June 28, 2015 01:20 am | Updated 01:20 am IST - SOLAPUR:

After witnessing an alleged scam of thousands of crores in building large, medium and small irrigation projects in Maharashtra, the State is now focusing on building decentralised, local and farmer-oriented water bodies.

This government-sponsored watershed programme called ‘Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan’ (JSA) that has begun in over 6,000 villages, aims at making 5,000 of them free of water scarcity by March 2016.

Proposed during the tenure of the Congress-NCP government, the project has been expanded by the Devendra Fadnavis–led BJP-Shiv Sena regime. The JSA has now become Mr. Fadnavis’ pet project, for which over Rs. 5,000 crore will be allocated.

“This is the first-of-its-kind people’s movement since Independence,” said Mr. Fadnavis.

Maharashtra has witnessed drought in the last two years. According to the admission made by the State’s Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Eknath Khadse, over 1,000 farmers have committed suicide till date this year. Despite spending over Rs. 70,000 crore on projects, the State has managed to increase its irrigation potential only by 0.01 per cent in the last one decade, says the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

At present only 18 per cent farming in the State is under irrigation, while 52 per cent area is prone to drought.

“This scheme is more of protective irrigation. The main aspects of it are to store water, recharge groundwater levels and increase soil moisture,” said Prabhakar Deshmukh, Principal Secretary, Water Conservation department.

Priority areas

Priority is given to rejuvenation of old structures such as compartment bunding, deepening and widening of nullahs, percolation tanks etc. Completing pending works and building new structures comes next.

Mr. Deshmukh said that if successfully implemented, the project would take care of the problem of drinking water in villages and make available water to crops during dry spells.

Nanasaheb Kadam of Shelu in Latur district had sunk 22 borewells in his 22-acre farm, going as deep as 900 feet in search of water for his sugarcane crop. “Instead of spending lakhs on borewells, we have come together under JSA now,” he said.

The villagers have revitalised 2.5 km out of 7 km of the nullah in the village, spending their own money. “This will help in recharging of wells in the village. Now we are waiting for rain,” he said. In Solapur district, recharging works on over 8,000 wells have been completed.

As per the official figures, people have voluntarily worked on JSA works worth Rs. 248 crore. The State government at present has made available Rs. 1,000 crore.

“To create a storage capacity of 1 tmcft, the government has to spend Rs. 300-325 crore as per traditional irrigation methods. Here, we are doing it at almost one-third of the cost,” said Mr. Deshmukh.

Over to gram sabha

The decision on the work to be undertaken under the JSA is taken at the gram sabha. Once the plan and the budget are approved, either people put in their money or raise a demand to the District Collector’s office. Several corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives too have been undertaken.

To ensure transparency, photos of works before and after completion are uploaded on a website designed for this project. Money is not released until the work is approved by the gram sabha.

“Our aim behind creating decentralised water sources is that it will ensure at least one crop in a year. If that happens, the farmers will feel financially secure and will not commit suicide,” said Mr. Fadnavis.

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