Water Sector in Maharashtra: Infrastructure & Governance


A typical irrigation project comprises of dam, reservoir, main canal, distributaries, minors, sub minors, field channels & farms. Components from reservoir to minors/sub minors are termed as Irrigation Main System [IMS]. The main purpose of IMS is to store & convey water to irrigation outlets. IMS, at present, is up-stream controlled, manually operated, mostly open channel system. Water Governance of projects critically depends upon IMS. Good governance of irrigation projects is practically impossible without compatible physical system & adequate legal support. This paper makes an attempt to highlight this basic fact with particular reference to M&MIP in Maharashtra.

Water Resources Development in Maharashtra Water sector in Maharashtra is passing through a difficult period. Following exposure of the irrigation scam in 2012, the Maharashtra Government had to publish white paper on irrigation. But that created more problems. Appointment of Special Investigation Team (SIT) further aggravated the controversy. Several public interest litigations have been filed. Investigation by CBI is being demanded.  And opposition political parties have been keeping the issue alive in legislative council & assembly.  The message is loud & clear. Water Governance is conspicuous by its absence.

One of the several incomplete Lift Irrigation schemes in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Courtesy: Wikipedia
One of the several incomplete Lift Irrigation schemes in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Courtesy: Wikipedia

Issues that have become controversial are listed below & they do substantiate the absence of water governance.(1,4,6,7)

1)            Validity of water availability certificates

2)           Completion of irrigation  projects in the truest sense  of the term

3)            Accurate, credible  figures of Created Irrigation Potential (CIP)

4)            Reduction in CIP

5)            Truth about Actual Irrigated Area (AIA)


Present Scenario of Water Management in Maharashtra: The present scenario of water management in  irrigation projects in the State is equally disturbing (2,3,4,5). Cropping pattern dominated by perennial & hot weather crops, inefficient water use, illegal lift irrigation schemes, diversion of water from irrigation to non-irrigation, absence of water – & crop area – measurement and non implementation of water laws are some of the important challenges before water governance.


Infrastructural Constraints Water governance demands compatible infrastructure. Infrastructure, in irrigation sector, includes reservoirs, canals & distribution network (DISNET), that is, mainly Irrigation Main System (IMS). Better the IMS better will be the water governance. IMS comprises of earthwork, structures & measuring devices. Earthwork & structures help store & convey water. Gated structures, in addition, facilitate control & regulation of water. Measuring devices, measure water & make possible other three most important & basic things of water governance, namely, monitoring, evaluation & water audit. Control, regulation & measurement together create “Water Control Situation” (WCS).WCS facilitates water level- & discharge- control which is the heart of canal operation. WCS, at least in Maharashtra, is largely conspicuous by its absence. That is a big infrastructural constraint from Water Governance point of view. Listed below are the highlights WCS in Maharashtra. The list is indicative & not exhaustive.

(1) IMS is an open channel system which, by its very nature, is difficult to control & regulate.

(2) IMS is an upstream controlled system. Such a system, by design, works as per the logic of supply side management & is operator – friendly. Here, the operator means officials of WRD. Participatory Irrigation Management is, not provided for in the design.

(3) IMS is basically designed for flow irrigation purposes. Lift irrigation & non-irrigation have not been considered in the original design. But IMS, in practice, is used for all purposes.

(4) Actual capacity of canals & DISNET is significantly less than design capacity; defective construction & lack of maintenance & repairs (M & R) being the main reasons.

(5) Actual conveyance losses of canals & DISNET are far more than generally expected. Overall Project Efficiency (ratio of water received at root zone & water released at canal head) is hardly 20-25% in most of the systems.(2,3)

(6) Less carrying capacity & more losses make mockery of irrigation schedules. Timely & predictable water supply remains on paper. Inordinate delays & grossly inadequate water supply inevitably lead to water conflicts.

(7) Gates of different type & size at strategic locations in canals & DISNET are of vital importance to control & regulate water supply. But most of the gates are either out of order or simply missing. Poor M & R, tampering & vandalism are common.

(8) Gates at present are cumbersome to operate. Their manual operation limits flexibility of canal operation. In absence of real time data, gate operation becomes ad-hoc. There is hardly any water level- & discharge-control.

(9)  Measuring devices are generally not provided at the head of canals & DISNET. Wrong design, improper location, defective construction & poor M &R of measuring devices and moreover, no reliable staff to record measurements are some of the features of the volumetric supply. Both officers & influential irrigators simply don’t like the idea of water measurement for well known reasons.

Even if the WCS does not exist as described above, WRD used to religiously publish Water Audit, Benchmarking & Irrigation Status Reports regularly. The author of this paper sent some objections in 2011(5). WRD did not respond.

Poor quality work at Gosekhurd Canals, Vidarbha Photo: Tehelka
Poor quality work at Gosekhurd Canals, Vidarbha Photo: Tehelka

Story of crop area measurement is similar to that of water measurement. It is not being measured. On the background of Irrigation scam, white paper & SIT, though GOM published its Economic Survey, it does not give statistics of irrigation. That is just “Not Available-NA”!

In view of above, one is compelled to agree with following two well known comments which have serious implications for Water Governance

(i)            There is no management in irrigation, its only administration.

(ii)          Whatever irrigation takes place, it is not the result of any planning as such. Its irrigation by accident.

Water Laws Maharashtra has enacted several Irrigation Acts. But those are not being implemented. Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), the first of its kind in India, has proved to be a failed institute. It has simply lost an opportunity to streamline water governance in the State in spite of having quasi-judicial powers. Lawlessness has become a hallmark of water sector in Maharashtra. Rule of Law is WANTED! (8)

Sugarcane growing in Solapur at the height of 2013 drought, April 2013. Photo: SANDRP
Sugarcane growing in Solapur at the height of 2013 drought, April 2013. Photo: SANDRP

Water Governance Constraints listed above lead to mismanagement in water sector which in turn gives rise to water conflicts. Absence of Rule of Law increases both number & severity of water conflicts. Given the situation, water governance then becomes virtually impossible. Good water governance is possible only if the infrastructure in water sector is improved & modernized and water laws are scrupulously implemented. Most importantly, when there is bottom up participatory process with key role for the local people. Implementation of water laws depends on political will & awareness amongst water users.

It’s time to switch over from “administration to management” in water sector & say good bye to “irrigation by accident”.

Till then good water governance may have to wait!

-Pradeep Purandare (Retd. Associate Professor, Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Aurangabad. E-mail: pradeeppurandare@gmail.com)


1)    WRD,GoM(1999): “Report of Maharashtra Water & Irrigation Commission”

2)    WRD,GoM(2011): “Report on Benchmarking of Irrigation Systems in Maharashtra State, 2009-10”, Mar 2011, www.mwrdc.org

3)    WRD,GoM (2011): “Report on Water Auditing of Irrigation Systems in Maharashtra State, 2009-10”, Mar 2011, www.mwrdc.org

4)    Purandare Pradeep (2012): “Canal irrigation in Maharashtra – Present Status”, Dams, Rivers & People, July – Aug 2012, https://sandrp.in/irrigation/Status_of_Canal_Irrigation_in_Maharashtra.PDF

5)    Purandare Pradeep (2012): “Water Auditing of Irrigation Projects in Maharashtra: Myth & Reality”, Dams, Rivers & People, Sept-Oct, 2012 , https://sandrp.in/irrigation/Irrigation_Projects_Audit_Mah_Pradeep_Purandare_Nov2012.pdf

6)    WRD,GoM,(2012):”White Paper on Irrigation in Maharashtra”, Vol-I, published on www.mahawrd.org on 29 Nov 2012,

7)    Purandare Pradeep (2012): “Who is the Maharashtra Government Fooling?”, Dams, Rivers & People, Nov-Dec, 2012, www.sandrp.in

8)    Purandare Pradeep (2013): “Wanted – Rule of Law”, www.downtoearth.org.in