Solapur, a chronically drought-hit district in Maharashtra was serviced with more than 200 tankers in 2013-14, even when the monsoon was good. In this drought, there are only 16 tankers plying in Solapur. Drinking water sources have been secured. The district leads the way in Jal Yukta Shivar Program in the state, new avenues of Agricultural credit are opening, options to sugarcane are being developed, errant sugar factories are being fined for polluting drinking water sources…
All this sounds too good to be true in a state where it seems lessons are not being learnt from 3 droughts in past 4 years. But it is happening. These positive stories deserve to be told at a time when overall situation appears dismal..
When I reached Solapur, I was a bit skeptical about Jalyukta Shivar Program, a flagship small scale soil and water conservation program of the Government of Maharashtra. I still have several concerns about the way in which and the scale at which the project is being implemented, but its potential in addressing critical issues, especially when steered by a visionary leadership, is doubtless. In the entire state, Solapur is far ahead in implementation of Jal Yukta Shivar (JYS) works and the major credit of this remarkable feat goes to Collector Tukaram Mundhe and his dedicated team from Water Conservation and Agricultural Department.
Solapur is a land of contradictions. Situated in a chronically drought affected part of the Bhima River Basin (a sub basin of Krishna River Basin), bordering Marathwada, the district has the highest concentration of water guzzling sugarcane and sugar factories in the state. In 2012-13 drought, Solapur had 28 sugar factories and the irony of this concentration in a water stressed area was amply highlighted. However, two droughts later, number of sugar factories only grew to 32 from previous 28.
In this scenario, Collector Tukaram Mundhe staunchly opposed and stopped water release from the Ujani Dam in Solapur (largest dam in the Bhima River Basin) for irrigating sugarcane in Rabi, stating that the project is meant for 8 monthly irrigation and no release can be made for a perennial crop like sugarcane in the face of a severe water crisis looming over Solapur. This was a strong decision which, predictably, led to protests from the politically powerful sugar lobby. Such strong steps have come from few people in the administration so far. In fact from none.
As I was scheduling a meeting with Mr. Mundhe, it was disturbing to hear that his car has been hit by the sand mafia which he has taken on but that did not affect the visit.
JYS is an ambitious program of the Government of Maharashtra, initiated in the times of the past NCP Congress government where erstwhile CM Prthiviraj Chavan played a key role. That said, it was present CM Devendra Fadnavis who grasped the potential of small scale water harvesting and made a veritable movement of this program. JSY consist of a host of on-farm and small scale measures like area treatment and contour bunding, soil and water conservation through continuous contour trenches, gully plugging, nalla bunding, cement nallahs bunds, recharging shallow wells, bore wells and hand pumps, desilting and maintenance of old Minor irrigation tanks, percolation tanks and community tanks and also (and this one is problematic) straightening, deepening and widening of rivers and streams in the state. There are some very valid issues and objections raised about the way JSY is being implemented, that deserves separate discussion.
The government aims to aggressively push JYS in the worst hit places, serviced by tankers, but there is more elaborate eligibility criteria. The stated objective of JYS is to make Maharashtra Drought free by 2019. All of the works done are mapped on an interactive platform by Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre[i], specifically for the Soil and Water Conservation Department. At this point, the MRSC shows that 1,54,177 works under JYS have been completed across the state and Solapur is leading the way in almost all of these works.
I visited some of the works in late January this year.
I was standing on the banks of the small tank called as Seetabai Talav where Deputy Director of Agriculture Mr. Mane and his team were enthusiastically showing me desiltation work done to increase the capacity of the tank. That much could be seen. But what was done with the excavated silt? In Maharashtra, several large dams like Gangapur and Hathnur are full of silt and the Water Resources Department (WRD) wants to build more dams rather than desilt existing projects as they have no clue what to do with the silt.
Here, I was taken to a field about 3 kms away, where the silt from Seetabai Tank was used to make a predominantly rocky strata cultivable. Papaya and Drumstick plants were swaying in the wind. Mr. Kedar Jodmote who owns this land says that something like this was unthinkable a year back. More than 2000 hectares of land in Solapur has been made cultivable, using such silt.
We further saw a well recharge project where overflow of an adjacent stream was diverted through a dug channel to a small desilting and recharge chamber, from where overflow was diverted into a well. In keeping with the surrounding, the well was dry, but the farmer hurried by and told us that he could take a corn crop only because of this well.
We also visited a farm where impeccable area treatment was carried out. The farm was outlined by a deep trench and mound which ensured that all the water received by the farm remained within the farm and recharged the area surrounding the farm.
Next to the farm was a small stream which was desilted, widened and deepened and which had a cement nallah bund built across it. The farmer Avdhoot Pujari and Vitthal Khatte told me proudly that their Jowar and fodder crops were saved due to the bund and soil moisture due to area treatment.
Solapur’s Jalyukta Shivar has ambitious target of completing Area Treatment for 100% villages, well recharge in 100% villages, rejuvenating rivers and nallahs targeting most villages, constructing cement Nallah Bunds on streams, desilting and strengthening existing tanks and ponds through people’s participation, covering most of the irrigated area by micro irrigation and taking crucial steps towards a more climate friendly cropping pattern, which is also profitable for the farmers.
In the first stage, 280 villages have been selected which belong to 64 mega watersheds and 1298 micro watersheds. While the rate of implementation and completion of works under this scheme in most other districts of the state remains dismally low[ii], in Solapur more than 26,000 works of the 28,000+ planned works have been completed already! Works costing around Rs 68 Crores haven achieved through peoples’ participation in cash or kind.
Till February 2016, a whopping 1900 works on Compartment Bunding (making trench and mound around farms) and area treatment have been completed, covering an area of about 80,832 hectares, 494 earthen bunds have been erected, 434 farm ponds have been set up, 334 cement nallahs bunds are up, 264 percolation tanks have been repaired. (Note: Data realted to JYS works has been made available by the Collector Office)
Remarkably, 29,926 wells have been recharged so far, 15,503 through JYS and 14,423 from villages which are not in the scheme, 445 Vanrai bunds (bunds made up of filled sand bags) have been set up. Unfortunately, no work has happened about Water User Associations.
The Collectorate claims that 42.66 lakh cubic meters of silt has been removed from various tanks and 2,326 hectares of land has been made cultivable through this.
About 4531 farmers took part in this work, which holds value of Rs 31.99 Crores. PPP Model for desilting has also been used. Cut off trenches in earthen dams and tanks need repair to avoid seepage and maintain structural safety. About 323 COTs have been repaired and reinstated in the past years. (A trench which is below the foundation base line of a dam or other structure and is filled with an impervious material, such as clay or concrete, to form a watertight barrier.)
The Collector has honored officials who have worked innovatively on well recharge. Mr. Joshi, Agricultural Assistant was felicitated for recharging 112 wells on South Solapur.
Same is the case with Borewell Recharge programs and recharging drinking water sources and hand pumps
Compartment bunding or Area Treatment forms the focus area of JYS in Solapur. Of the 100,000 odd hectares of area treatment targeted for 2015-16, work over 80,832 hectares has been completed so far. Like in other efforts, here too officials who undertake innovative and efficient work are openly felicitated.
Continuous contour trench work, which has been completed for over 331 hectares.
Of the 28,266 works undertaken in 2015-16, by February 26,379 works have been completed. Amount spent on this so far is Rs 194.02 Crores.
It is claimed that this creation of new capacity and recharge has resulted in net creation of 46246.33 TCM (46 MCM) of water while and reinstating old capacity through measures like desilting, broadening and deepening of rivers and streams, repairing bunds and tanks, etc., has resulted into a net increase in water availability by 14010 TCM (14 MCM).
Considering the nuances of groundwater recharge, evaporation losses, percolation and final water availability, this figure needs to be checked. However, this does not take away from the fact that impressive soil and water conservation work has happened in Solapur which also includes a strong component of micro irrigation through drip and sprinklers.
The work is very closely monitored by the Collector who has himself measured the depth and height of the compartment bunds set up in villages like Mandrup and Ghodyacha Tandaa. The Collector also conducts regular monitoring and guiding meetings with all officials from the Agriculture Department, in almost all villages! Training Workshops are being conducted in the village as well as block level and felicitation of efficient and innovative officials has become a trend.
While looking at a well recharge Mr. Mane suddenly tells me, “Madam, we feel proud of our work. It is a lot of hard work, but I feel proud at the end of the day.” This is indeed commendable.
In his office Tukaram Mundhe tells us more about his vision for Solapur. He is clear that agriculture will have to be looked at as an agro industry if small holding farmers are to make profit. One of the key component in this context is agricultural credit, which he is pursuing to achieve with great zeal. He talks about how even government institutions are wary of giving credit to farmers, when it is their right. He has been instrumental in ensuring about Rs 5000 Crores Agri. Credit reaches the farmers in 2014-15 and is nearing (when last heard) the Rs 10,000 Crore credit plan for 2015-16, out of which about Rs 2000 Crores is only for micro irrigation. No credit will be forwarded to sugarcane without drip and for Crop Credit of about Rs 5000 Crores, no mortgage will be required from farmers.
He says, “Rather than providing subsidy, making agricultural credit more accessible and transparent for farmers will be important.”
He also talks about the need to demonstrate the profitability of horticulture and vegetable farming, even on a small land holding, if we are to counter the gigantic growth of sugarcane. “Administration, through agricultural credit and forward and backward linkages has a huge role to play here, which is slowly evident in Solapur. In Mangalvedha theer are farms where 0.5 acre land has the facility of Shade Net & grows vegetables like capsicum and is much more profitable than sugarcane, using a fraction of water. In case of forward linkages of fruits and vegetables Solapur is uniquely placed from metros like Hyderabad, Bijapur and Pune. About 250 shade-nets have been installed in various places, I hope this picks up.”
He is very optimistic about well recharge program, having seen excellent results in places like Khadki in Karmala where a recharged borewell came to life after a shower and has been providing drinking water to the village. “Recharging wells only costs about 10,000 Rs. But rural population depends on groundwater, we should not ignore it, in fact it is our biggest ally.”
Same is the case with Malegaon where recharging wells and borewells has assured drinking water supply.
He is possibly the only Collector who has evoked the Groundwater (Management and Development) Act of 2009, fining a sugar industry (Shri Siddheshwar Co Operative Sugar Factory) for polluting and exploiting a groundwater source which is used for drinking. The factory was imposed exemplary fine of Rs 1.5 Crores.
Urban Water Supply
“Urban water supply is more about management than water availability. As a Collector of the perennially dry Jalna, our team could revive an old water supply tank from the time of Nizam with the help of local groups. When I took over in 2011-12, water was supplied to Jalna once in 15 days. That is unacceptable! From there, we worked on water supply efficiency, rotations, etc., to come to ½ hour every three days from 2 hours once in fifteen days and was also able to bring it to ½ hour every day. Urban water supply is more of an internal efficiency and management issue, than a source issue. If we would have waited for water to come from Jayakwadi, we would wait for 10 more years!” Remarkable wisdom indeed, and wish urban water planners all over India were to listen to this and follow it rather than hankering for long distance water mirages.
One of his most remarkable achievements has been the in Solapur where in 2013-14, 212 tankers had to be in service to supply water… this year, even with a dismally low rain (in Monsoon, Solapur has received just 193.9 mm rainfall, less than half that of Rajasthan), the number of tankers is down to just 16 in March 2016!
He attributes this to creating a systematic inventory of water sources, which were many times not on record and repairing and recharging maximum possible structures, which has now made nearly 60 villages and 69 settlements tanker free! “In addition we saw that number of drinking water supply schemes are defunct. There are many reasons behind it, including non-payment of dues. We paid the dues and made sure that maintenance funds flow from National Rural Drinking Water Program. 47 villages have been made tanker free through this. In addition, we have completed languishing schemes on priority and have expanded pipeline network. If we look at the whole picture, the solutions are simple”.
“We have given assurance to the people that administration will provide water, not tankers, and we are trying to do that.”
This sounded too good to be true. I must confess that I was a bit skeptical and talked with some villagers and networks in Solapur. All were unanimous in saying that tanker lobby has been beaten down in Solapur and drinking water is indeed assured. While people still have to spend time in collecting water, this was true when the tankers were plying too.
Mr. Mundhe has been made a Temporary Commissioner of Solapur just for a period of ten days (in which he made sure that a whopping Rs 1 Crore Property Tax was recovered from political heavy weights on his very first day) During this time, he is aggressively looking at fixing leakages and wastages in the pipeline system from Ujani to Solapur. A major repair work has already started.
It is not often that you write about the work of one official. I was unsure. However, I realized that such dynamic and innovative efforts from Mr. Tukaram Mundhe and his team from the administration deserve acknowledgement and huge respect. They hold great potential and seeds of change for a better future.
Mr. Mundhe is being targeted by several groups, ruling and opposition parties and the status quo lobby is clearly unhappy with him. He has been attacked by the sand mafia. Amidst all this, we wish Mr. Mundhe all the very best for the spectacular work being achieved in Solapur and hope this exemplary work continues and spreads in other districts of Maharashtra and beyond. In this time of unprecedented drought across the country, there is a lot that we can learn from the ongoing work in Solapur.
While many of the actions in Solapur are most welcome, this seems to be largely happening due to a few individual officers there and in spite of the state and the central government. Even in Solapur, the district administration could not take effective action to curb sugarcane cultivation and sugar mills operations in these drought times. With these (and some others mentioned above) qualifications and limitations, the steps in Solapur as described above are certainly welcome and worthy of replication.