Faulty policy causes Maharashtra"s farmlands to go dry

Faulty policy causes Maharashtra Water crisis in Maharashtra is the making of the state's faulty strategy and misguided policies. A recent report, Combating drought in Maharashtra, explains how by critically analyzing Maharashtra's irrigation projects, recurrent floods and water policy. Released by Dushkal Hatavu Manus Jagavu (Maharashtra Drought Forum), a network of ngos, the report is a comprehensive study of the state's water scenario.

"While agriculture is directly related to life and livelihood of the majority of the state's population, allocation for water resources to agriculture is accorded third priority in gom's (Government of Maharashtra's) Maharashtra State Water Policy, below allocation for industrial and commercial use,' states the report. For a supposedly high performing state, the report makes some revealing observations: In nearly 70 per cent, or 27,600, of the state's villages, potable water is either not available within 500 m or 15 m below the ground.

Irrigation woes
Surface irrigation targets also remain unmet. For instance, the 1995 Maharashtra Water and Irrigation Commission had estimated that of the state's total cultivable area of 22.54 million hectares (ha), about 8.5 million ha could be brought under surface irrigation. But the area under surface irrigation is only 3.86 million ha. The report, however, claims that even this figure is an exaggeration as "only 1.23 m ha, or around a third of the potential created, is actually irrigated by canals; another 0.44 m ha is irrigated by wells in command areas of irrigation projects'.

A number of irrigation projects have remained incomplete for years. The report quotes the Comptroller and Auditor General of India's (cag) 2001-02 civil audit report for Maharashtra which says that as of March 31, 2002, there were 117 incomplete irrigation projects, in which Rs 3,250 crore was blocked. The worst part is that in 14 major, 24 medium and 67 minor irrigation projects, work had been abandoned after an expenditure of Rs 27 billion because the projects had become non-viable due to cost escalation.

And now to tide over the problem, the state government is trying to hive off funds from the employment guarantee scheme for projects in the Krishna basin (see