The current drought situation in the state has been engineered by the state government, which has diverted water to cash crops, alleged Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People.
He was speaking at the opening session of the two-day conference titled, ‘The water sector of India – challenges and prospects’ here on Saturday. The event was organised by the Karve Institute of Social Service as part of its golden jubilee celebrations.
Thakkar said, “If we compare the 1972 rainfall to this year’s, we can see that the rainfall this year is higher. The sugarcane crop has not been affected this year, though there is a severe drought. This shows that water is being diverted to sugarcane at the expense of other crops. At the same time, water is being diverted from the Krishna basin to the Koyna power plant to be used for electricity generation.”
Thakkar added that though thousands of crores of rupees had been spent on building dams in the last 20 years, the net irrigated area in the country has not increased much.
He said the drought in Maharashtra was engineered. “Despite what we hear about the severity of the drought, the fact is that the sugarcane production in the state has not dropped,” he said.
The sugarcane crop has not suffered at all. Though the government of Maharashtra has spent thousands of crores of rupees on new dams in the last 20 years, irrigated area in the state has not increased much. The irrigation department officials are not accountable to the people.”
He said that today groundwater was the mainstay of the people, especially in rural areas. “Both rural water supply and irrigation are largely supplied through groundwater, but there is no regulation of this resource. With every passing day, our dependence on groundwater is rising, but we are not doing anything to protect or preserve our groundwater sources,” he said.
Thakkar added that rising water pollution was another major challenge. He slammed the central and state pollution control boards for their failure to ensure clean water bodies. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed in 1974, after which the states set up the state pollution control boards. But today, there are hardly any water bodies that have been made clean by these boards. “There is hardly any example of a polluted water body in the country that was cleaned by the boards since 1974,” he said.
Another expert too pointed out the different treatment given to the sugarcane crop. Shripad Dharmadhikari, a policy researcher at Manthan Adhyana Kendra, Pune said, “The major problem over water is that there is no mechanism of allocating water. Though Maharashtra has over 30 per cent of the nation’s major dams, the water is only being used for sugarcane crop. What one sees in many villages is that people are struggling to get drinking water, while on other hand the sugarcane crop is well-irrigated. We should give priority for drinking water over all other requirements.”
Some experts spoke on the need for planning. Himanshu Kulkarni, secretary of the NGO, Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (Acwadam), said that the biggest problem today is the absence of planning to meet water needs. “We need to have a plan for the next 15 years in order to preserve water sources, especially groundwater. There is a clear link between the current drought and the over-extraction of groundwater.”
Magasasay awardee Rajendra Singhji of Tarun Bharat Sangh and Jal Biradari said there were four key components in protecting natural resources like water. “One is to control water evaporation; second, enhance ground water; third, take control over your own life (uske bad apna jivan chalawo); and finally stand up against those who loot your resources.” He spoke at the last session of the first day of the state-level event organised as part of Karve Institute’s golden jubilee celebrations.