Groundwater · Maharashtra

Maharashtra Groundwater Authority: Can it save the state from deep trouble?

(Photo from Outlook)

Harischandra Yerme from Latur (Maharashtra) sunk not one or two but 60 borewells in his field in Marathwada in the hope of finding water for his orchard. None of these 60 borewells yield water today. Mr. Yerme has taken on himself the task of educating farmers in his region that there is no sense in growing an orchard on bore wells: the supply may dry up at any moment, resulting in huge losses. He told me, “We don’t even consider 250 feet borewells now, all bores are at least 700-800 feet deep and even then they don’t work.” Marathwada is reportedly drilling as many as 10,000 borewells[1] per month in this drought: a boom that is sustained by the “boring mafia” from Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu using travelling rigs… In as many as 247 villages of Marathwada, the draft has exceeded recharge to such an extent that the aquifer has literally gone dry.. Water in villages is plummeting even by 7 meters of the 5 years average.[2] The density of borewells is so high that is villages near Tasagaon, a 40-50 square kilometer area has more than 210 deep bore wells. Officials from GSDA tell SANDRP of multiple instances where farmers only lose money in the hope of going deeper for groundwater, deeper than 800-900 feet. The landscape is likened to a “Chaalan”: a sieve in Marathi, but also several gunshot wounds.. Continue reading “Maharashtra Groundwater Authority: Can it save the state from deep trouble?”


Krishna Marathwada Project: A costly pipe dream?

Above: A board at the dam site proclaims: “Beware, dam work ahead”. The warning pretty much sums up the situation of Krishna Marathwada Project Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

It was a blazing hot afternoon, made hotter by the subconscious association of Marathwada with all things dry, parched and drought-stricken. I was standing on the half completed dam wall of the Khuntephal Storage Tank in Beed, along with Macchindra Thorave and his colleagues. I’ve seen many dams and many dam walls, but it was impossible to believe this was a dam wall, supposed to impound 5.68 TMC of water (TMC=Thousand Million Cubic Feet. 1 TMC=28.317 billion liters). Primarily because there was no water in sight on either sides of the dam! There was no river in sight either! It actually looked like an under-construction road connecting two hills.

But as I realized later, being a part of the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Scheme and Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project, issues like water were inconsequential.  This was Dam for Dam’s sake.

Half completed wall of the Khuntephal/Ashti Storage Tank, part of the Krishna Marathwada Project. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Half completed wall of the Khuntephal/Ashti Storage Tank, part of the Krishna Marathwada Project. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Continue reading “Krishna Marathwada Project: A costly pipe dream?”

Maharashtra · Marathwada

Can Marathwada afford to undertake Sugarcane Crushing in this terrible drought?

Since 2012, farmers in Maharashtra, especially in Marathwada and Vidarbha region of central and eastern Maharashtra are faced with unending mountains of crisis. What started as drought of 2012 went on in form of violent rains at places in 2013, hailstorms of February-March 2014, scanty monsoon in 2014 and unseasonal rains at places in November 2014, affecting lakhs of farmers. Agricultural production has suffered losses as impact of scanty rainfall has been compounded by absence of rains in critical time windows when soybean was filling and cotton bolls were forming. More than 8000 villages in Marathwada region which comprises of Aurangabad, Nanded, Parbhani, Latur, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna and Osmanabad have recorded crop losses of more than 50%.

Marathwada region in Maharashtra Map from: Marathi Wikipedia
Marathwada region in Maharashtra Map from: Marathi Wikipedia

The entire Winter Assembly of the newly formed Government seems to be clouded by discussions of drought package and increasing farmer suicides in Marathwada and Vidarbha. Since January 2014, more than 400 farmers have committed suicide in Marathwada region, and the pace is picking up worryingly since the past month. Hydrological, meteorological and agricultural droughts are becoming more pronounced in Marathwada.

But can this be attributed to vagaries of nature alone?

A brief analysis of the underlying reasons for the crisis in Marathwada and its future implications:

Truant Monsoon of 2014

As per SANDRP’s analysis of district-wise rainfall figures of Marathwada in monsoon 2014, the picture which arises is dismal:


For 2014, departure from normal rainfall for 6 out of 8 districts in Marathwada was more than 40% and rest two districts it was more than 50%, indicating a huge reduction in rainfall. However, contrary to what is being stated in the media, the region received satisfactory rainfall in 2013 monsoon. In fact, 6 districts of the 8 received more than 100% of normal rains and remaining two districts received 88% and 95% of normal rains last year. This is one of the reasons that the reservoir storage in 2014 did not fall as sharply as they did in 2012-13 drought. On 15th October 2014, Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad had 42% Live storage, which was more than October 2013 storage of 33% and 2012, when it had reached dead storage already ( The entire Marathwada region too showed large reservoir storage of 47%, which is not extremely alarming.

Significantly, 2012-13 drought also unfolded in a similar manner, with highly satisfactory monsoons of 2011.

At the same time, the region is facing one of the worst droughts in recent history today.

This seemingly contradictory situation underlines a number of things, most important being: large dams do not automatically equate with water in farmers’ fields. Work on many projects (most projects in Marathwada) is incomplete ( for example: canals of projects like Lower Dudhana, Jayakwadi Phase II, etc), while contractors and politicians have made a pretty packet from the contracts, many projects are ‘evaporation machines’ than a water supply systems, without canals and distributaries or systems to govern water management. The available impounded water is a valuable political tool, and is used as such. Water allocation and management is far from being sustainable, transparent and accountable.

Projects under the jurisdiction of Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation
Projects under the jurisdiction of Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation

According to news reports, in the past 11 months, 454 farmers only in Marathwada[1] have committed suicide due to number of reasons, most linked to crop failure and debt. Strikingly, after late November 2014, 52 farmers committed suicides mainly from Beed, Nanded and Osmanabad regions.

District Number of farmer suicides since January 2014
 1. Beed 122
 2. Nanded 104
 3. Osmanabad 54
 4. Parbhani 49
 5. Aurangabad 40
 6. Jalna 22
 7. Hingoli 29
 8. Latur 34

The issue has been raised in the Winter Assembly by the enthusiastic opposition and the CM is yet to announce a drought relief package. It is expected to be close to 8000-9000 Crores or more.

At the same time, there is a huge tussle going on between Nashik and Nagar on one hand and Marathwada on the other, for waters Godavari which originates in Western Ghats flows through Northern Maharahstra and then becomes the lifeline of Marathwada region. Nashik and Ahmednagar have constructed slew of large dams on Godavari and have always been reluctant to release water for Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad in the downstream. We saw this episode flaring up last year and we are seeing an action replay this year as the HC has ordered immediate release of water from upstream dams for Jayakwadi. (See: (Notably, this is the first time I have witnessed that the Dam Storages data of, the official website of the Water Resources Department is not updated with weekly Dam Storage Levels. This had not happened even at the peak of 2013-12 Drought. Our queries to WRD on this front have been unanswered till date.)

WRD officials and administration have taken cautious stand and water in reservoirs is now reserved mainly for drinking water purposes, any release in downstream for irrigation is being delayed and is being made only after strong negotiations, badly hitting rabi cultivation, which is already less than last year.

Even as conflicts flare up, protests rage and assembly is disrupted, sugarcane crushing goes on unhindered in Marathwada, in whopping 61 Sugar factories!

On the unfortunate and expected lines, the government has not said a word about restricting cane crushing in Marathwada this year, which itself guzzles massive amounts of water, apart from cane cultivation. On the other hand, the party president, Amit Shah himself attended first crushing day of some factories (one of which was reportedly captured by relatives of a BJP MLA by fraud![2])

A look at sugarcane cultivation and crushing season so far in Marathwada:

(All data obtained by SANDRP from Sugar Commissionarate, Maharashtra Government, December 2014)

Area under sugarcane in Marathwada in 2013-14 and Sugar factories

District Area under sugarcane (in hectares) Number of Sugar factories
1. Aurangabad 15,373 9
2. Jalna 11,083 5
3. Beed 27,299 10
4. Parbhani 25,567 6
5. Hingoli 18,037 3
6. Nanded 28,057 9
7. Osmanbad 43,635 16
8. Latur 61,479 12
TOTAL 2,30,530 Hectares 61 Factories

So around 61 sugar factories will crush 154.28 Lakh Tonnes Cane in a period when drought is so bad that water will not be released from reservoirs for irrigation!

In doing so, the factories will use a minimum of 1500 litres of water to crush one tonne of cane. To crush 154.28 lakh tonnes, minimum amount of water used will be: 23,142,000,000 Litres or 23.1 Million Cubic Meters. This is the lowest estimate.

This amount would be sufficient to irrigate nearly 8,000 acres of high yielding groundnut, more of Jowar or can be sufficient for drinking water needs of nearly 15 lakh 85 thousand people[3] till the onset of 2015 monsoon!

This water will be used till the end of crushing season when the drought will be extremely severe if we look at current indices.

Is there a justification of doing so? Will a 10,000 Crore drought package come close to ameliorating the impact of water loss at the peak of drought?

In addition, the pollution control mechanism of most sugar factories is pathetic. Pollution Control Board has raised this number of times. Uncontrolled water and soil pollution by sugar factories will additionally pollute groundwater and water bodies, further affecting water security of the region.

This water may be sourced from dams and groundwater. SANDRP has witnessed in 2012-13drought, sugar factories in Marathwada, mainly Osmanabad region lifted water from dams even when water levels had dipped below dead storage. What will be the impact of this siphoning on local drinking water security?

We should not forget that one of the costliest political lesson for NCP came when Ajit Pawar uttered extremely insulting remarks on dry reservoirs, mocking people’s plight. This was in context of a protest by a lone farmer from Mohol, urging water for drinking, even as sugar factories on Mohol used lakhs of litres of water when the farmer, Prabhakar Deshmukh, was fasting in Mumbai! Needless to say, the ruling party’s defeat was sealed through such acts. (More about Sugarcane in Solapur here:

Even in terms of groundwater, Marathwada region has literally touched rock bottom. In a report by GSDA (Groundwater Survey and Development Agency) submitted to Government of Maharashtra,[4] it has been reported that in 249 villages of Marathwada, abstraction has been 100% and there is no more water to draw. Not surprisingly, the regions suffering largest groundwater problems are surrounded by sugarcane and sugarcane factories.

In the past too, SANDRP has underlined how sugarcane in drought affected areas contributed to worsening drought of 2012-13. Then Solapur was in crisis.  This year, the district which has 28 sugar factories two years back has 34 sugar factories!

All government announcements about bringing sugarcane under drip have remained on paper and sugarcane continues to rule the drought politics of the region, regardless of the political party. In fact, the Cooperation Minister BJP Government Chadrakant Patil has announced that the only clause which has been limiting further sugar factory rush (of having a minimum aerial distance of 15-25 kms between two factories[5]),  can be diluted “ to promote healthy competition”. 200 factories are lined up for licenses with the Sugar Commissionarate!  There is no thought about the impact of this decision on water profile of Maharashtra.

This defies logic. The work of Winter Assembly was disrupted several times yesterday (10th December 2014) by aggressive opposition asking for an immediate drought package for Marathwada and Vidarbha. How can a 4,000 or 10,000 Crore Drought Package address these systemic issues? How can this package address siphoning off water from a drought hit region in peak drought? The opponents are happy discussing help to sugar factories for drought relief, not raising any points about impending impacts of crushing cane in drought.

In the long term, there is a need to reduce area under sugarcane and provide proper incentives, fair support price, forward and backward market linkages and support for initiatives like horticulture under drip (and there are several success stories from Marathwada on this), dairying, oil seed and pulses cultivation and processing, dryland farming and importantly, equitable and transparent water management involving all farmers in the region, not restricted to a few.

It is high time that long term decisions are taken in order to make Marathwada truly drought proof and free from clutches of ‘drought packages’ and opportunistic politics, year after year. A start can be made by restricting cane crushing in the region immediately.

-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP,

End Notes:

Marathwada Farmers need Water:

SANDRP Analysis on water issues in Maharashtra:

Open Letter to Devendra Fadnavis:

Why Solapur, Sugar and Sustainability do not rhyme:



[3] @ 80 litres per capita per day



Further work on SANDRP on Drought, Maharashtra and Sugarcane can be found in Category: Maharashtra


Local Initiatives for drought-proofing Maharashtra

Although infamous for the failure of its large dam approach and the recent dam scam, Maharashtra has also been one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to watershed development, participatory water management and a pioneering discourse surrounding equitable sharing of available water sources. The state has had a number of remarkable stories like Ralegan Siddhi, Hiware Bazaar, Soppecom’s work on water users associations in Waghad and Palkhed, work of Paani Panchayat, Afarm, etc., in addition to a number of centrally funded and state funded watershed programs like Drought Prone Area Program (DPAP), Integrated Wasteland Development Program (IWDP), Adarsh Gaon Yojana, etc. The state has had its share of stalwarts like Late Dr. Vilasrao Salunkhe, Anna Hazare, Popatrao Pawar, Late Dr. Mukundrao Ghare, Smt. Kalpanatai Salunkhe to name just a few. They talked about not only increasing water availability, but also allocating and managing the available water resources equitably and sustainably and many other facets of participatory watershed management which were strongly rooted in equity, gender sensitivity, social realities and ecological sustainability.

Sarpanch of Hiware Bazar Popatrao Pawar Photo: Business Standard
Sarpanch of Hiware Bazar Popatrao Pawar Photo: Business Standard

This overall context had a role to play even as Maharashtra faced one of its worst droughts in 2012-13. The devastating drought pushed some unique watershed initiatives across the state, some of which were directly supported by the state, many without any support.

We looked at a few successful stories of increasing water availability locally, through watershed or other simple measures. The common thread running through these examples is ‘local initiative’. It was experienced again that having local communities at the driving seat, with encouraging guidance from the experts and help from government agencies can lead to positive results.

At the same time, we came across some quick-fix watershed measures which are currently supported by the government and discuss if these can replace the holistic and long-term effort of participatory watershed management and equitable water distribution. The examples below are taken from an agricultural daily “Agrowon” and they are indicative in nature[i]. We have talked with the key people behind the initiatives to understand how the work evolved.

Naigaon village in chronically drought prone Ahmednagar desilts its village tank

Naigaon is a small village of around 5000 people in Jamkhed taluka of Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra. Although Khairi Irrigation Project on Khairi River in Jamkhed is just 3 kms from the village, it does not save Naigaon from water scarcity. Since the past few years, Naigaon has been increasingly facing acute water scarcity in post-February months and its dependence on tankers has increased.

Dry landscape of Jamkhed Photo:
Dry landscape of Jamkhed Photo:

The village has a tank: The Naigaon Tank, constructed by the Water Resources Department after the great drought of 1972. It extends over 42 hectares of land. However due to lack of maintenance, the tank was silted and its water storage had decreased substantially.  The 2012-13 drought was the last straw for Naigaon. The tank, silted up and hardly holding any water was an eyesore for the villagers.  In the summer of 2013, more than 1500 people of Naigaon came together to desilt the Naigaon tank by hand and by machines. The collective effort resulted in removing over 3 lakh cubic meters of silt from the tank!

Being farmers, they realized the value of this silt and it was spread over more than 250 hectares of agricultural land. The Tahsildar of Jamkhed Taluk, seeing the enthusiasm and initiative of the farmers, waived royalty on the silt. But apart from this, the initiative did not take any help from the government. Why did they do that? We asked Watershed Committee Chair Suresh Ugale. “We decided to get together and do something in late 2012-early 2013. We were afraid that if government schemes like MNREGA take time in sanctioning, then we will lose the monsoon of 2013. We did not want to lose a single monsoon and did all the work entirely on voluntary basis.”

In addition to desilting, the villagers, along with agriculture department carried out watershed works in the surrounding region which included Continuous Contour Trenching, nallah bunding and gulley plugging.

The results are evident. Due to desilting of the village tank, water levels for 30 to 40 surrounding wells have increased. Farmers have been lifting water directly from the tank too. Watershed works have also resulted in increase in water levels of other wells and an increase in soil moisture. This in turn has lead to more crop diversity. In kharif of 2013, 35 ha of additional land was cultivated with multiple crops like cotton, soybean, mung, urad, sugarcane and 18 ha of land was under horticulture. The villagers proudly proclaim that the lands where silt was spread are more productive. In the words of Yogesh Shinde, “My light soil did not allow me much crop choice. But the silt from the tank allowed me to grow jowar and udid ( black gram, a lentil) and fodder crops. We’ve indeed been fortunate this year.”

At the same time, it is worrying that area under sugarcane is also increasing. When asked about this, the watershed Committee chair says, “Yes, we’ve been trying to irrigate all new sugarcane by drip. But that is difficult. The subsidies don’t reach the poorer farmers who need it the most.” But it is clear that without active efforts, more water can mean more water guzzling sugarcane in Naigaon.

No tankers for Pingori village this year

Pingori village in Purandar taluka of Pune district is surrounded by hillocks from three sides. 80% of the land is hills and only 20% is cultivable. Although Pune region has a very high density of large dams, no canal water reaches Pingori. Veer dam lies about 15 to 20 km downstream of the village and plays no role in water supply to the village.

In 2013 the village faced acute drought. People who held lands on the hilly tracts were left with no option but to sell offs their lands. In the words of Babasaheb Shinde, a veteran from the village, ““There was hardly any income source in village without water. People were migrating to cities. We had to do something.”As the situation turned alarming, some villagers came together. It was accepted by all that the key to their challenge lay in water availability.  Pingori had a village tank which was badly in need of maintenance and desilting. Despite several follow ups with Water Conservation Department, no desilting was undertaken by the department, siting non-availability of funds as the reason.

Left with no choice, the villagers of Pingori came together. Hundreds of villagers raised funds for desilting the tanks by working on NREGS schemes. Though they raised a considerably sum, it was still not sufficient for the entire desilting operation. Here, they were helped by Dagdusheth Ganapati Temple Trust.

With some help like this, Pingori undertook desilting work for nearly 45 days in summer 2013 by manual labour and machines. Villagers told SANDRP that more than 200,000 cubic meter silt was removed from the single tank and spread on agricultural fields. Desilting not only increased water holding capacity of the tank, but also its recharge. Following the monsoon of 2013, the village tank held more water and water table in the surrounding areas also increased.

Desilted "Ganesh Sagar" of Pingori village Photo:www.dagdushetganapati.oeg
Desilted “Ganesh Sagar” of Pingori village

Several years ago when Pingori tank held more water, it had fish in it and fishery was existing, if not thriving. Silt and droughts killed this initiative. But with desilting, local youth introduced over 2 lakh fish seed in the tank and even formed a Fisheries Society. In addition to desilting, the villagers have also undertaken watershed works in nearby hills, especially continuous contour trenches (CCTs) which has helped significantly in raising water table and augmenting stream flows. Cumulative gain of desilting has been increased cultivation on over 300 acres of land and also increased fodder availability.

Pingori has a remarkable lady Sarpanch Ms. Pallavi Bhosale. Ms. Bhosale tells us “I know what it is not even to have drinking water in your home. As a Sarpanch in 2012-13 I was deeply saddened as I had to call for tankers every other day. I could see women from my village walk for miles for water. So many horticultural plantations had to be hacked. It was very disturbing. The entire village stood together and hence this could happen.”

Today Pingori has not called for a single tanker as yet, although the Purandar block has received less than 25% rainfall in this monsoon till date.

How does Pingori avoid water guzzling crops, now that Pingori tank has water? “As a gramsabha we don’t allow water guzzling crops like sugarcane in Pingori. Our water is very precious and we cannot give more water to a few.”

Medsinga village in Taluka & District of Osmanabad is a village of 2700 population. Drought and water scarcity is a regular feature in Osmanadabad in Marathwada and Medsinga is no exception. As SANDRP indicated during the rought of 2012-13, water from major dams in Osmanbad-Latur regions is almost exclusively diverted to sugarcane and sugar factories, leaving smaller villages high and dry.

The village has a tank built by the villagers themselves, 25-30 years ago. Villagers decided to desilt this tank and increase its water holding capacity.

Here, they built recharge shaft inside the tank bed to increase groundwater recharge. This was a 13m x 7m x 2m pit with 2ft x 2ft pit below that followed by a bore well 70 ft deep. Twine was wound around the borewell casing pipe before inserted into the shaft. The shaft was then filled with pebbles to facilitate water percolation.

The villagers also repaired about 16 cement bunds constructed about 10 years back. These bunds were leaking as parts of cement had washed away. The expenses of about Rs 7 lakhs was covered by Holistic Watershed Development and Mahatma Phule Water Conservation Programme.

The cumulative impact of desilting, recharge and repaired bunds was increased water availability in 27 wells and 32 borewells.  There are 2 percolation tanks in the village constructed by Water Conservation Department. They have however lost their capacity due to siltation. Next phase of work plan includes desilting of these tanks.

Is increased water availability an end in itself?

The leaders in Pingori, Naigaon, Sinnar, etc., accept that watershed development is a long and complex process and not simply synonymous with increasing water availability. While it is very positive that water availability is indeed impacted by even short term measures, it seems to be essential that there is long term vision and a watershed approach behind these initiatives. In the absence of a long term vision, water guzzling crops and mismanagement of available resources can lead to a zero sum game. As reviewed by Soppecom in their review on watershed development in Maharashtra,[ii] in itself, watershed development can accentuate inequity by favoring the landed and the lower reaches as well as those who have the capacity to use pumps, siphons, etc.

Unfortunately the May 2013 Government of Maharashtra resolution of supporting nallah widening and deepening known as Shirpur Pattern and raising cement nallah bunds indiscriminately cannot really count as participatory, bottoms up process. Unscientific deepening and widening of streams is not only wasteful, but can also expose the groundwater aquifer, rather than helping recharge. It also raises additional questions of water availability in the downstream, exclusive work by mechanical equipment and not human effort that provides employment to the local needy, Shramadan, etc. While watershed development entails a ridge to valley approach where measures are taken right from the mountain top and logically culminate in the valley in form of bunds or weirs, indiscriminate erection of cement nallah bunds cannot qualify as watershed development. As Seema Kulkarni, Soppecom says, “Watershed program is a culmination of a watershed plan for a village or micro watershed. In the absence of such a plan, it is doubtful whether ad hoc measures can help”.

It is no wonder then that in the contractor-savvy Maharashtra, mega-scale projects like building thousands of cement bunds is looked at as a business venture than a critical intervention. According to reports, Government of Maharashtra through Agriculture and Water Conservation Department built over 3000 bunds spending more than 700 crores just in the last two years. As it is recently reported, many of the cement nallah bunds built hastily in 2013-14 after the Government GR are not holding water, some are built at hydrologically wrong locations, some are already damaged, some are built without sufficient desilting affecting water storage, etc.  A Government inquiry has been constituted on the same in many districts.

From the experience of recent examples like Pingori, Naigaon, Devnadi or the older successes like Ralegaon Siddhi or Hiware Bazaar, it seems that Watershed Development is so much more than erecting some structures at the right places with the help of machines. As much as a technical process, it is also a social and ecological process. And it is indeed more effective that way.

– Parineeta Dandekar, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP


1. This election time (Oct 10, 2014) report highlights the success story of similar local efforts in Jalna-Aurangabad area:

2. Since the implementation of Phad irrigation, a low cost and eco-friendly system that works without electricity, agricultural production has increased improving the situation of farmers in Yavatmal. (Sept 7, 2014)



[ii] A. Samuel, K.J. Joy, Seema Kulkarni et al, Watershed Development in Maharashtra: Present Scenario and Issues for Restructuring the Programme


A review of water issues in Maharashtra in 2013

2013 will remain a memorable year for Maharashtra’s water sector in many ways. The year saw several remarkable events, including country’s the biggest dam scam, a severe drought followed by floods, unprecedented intrastate water conflicts, court rulings in many hues, disaster management preparedness, push for urban and industrial water, etc. These issues have raised a question mark over institutions and governance mechanisms around water in the state. 2013 year has been a crucible of sorts through which the flaws and strengths of prevailing water management in Maharashtra can possibly be assessed. This is an attempt to give an overview of the important water happenings in Maharashtra during this year.

As the year 2012 ended, a White Paper on Irrigation Projects[i] was published by the Water Resources Department (WRD)  Government of Maharashtra after much pressure from civil society and media following colossal corruption charges[ii] against the WRD, and also against the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) which held the portfolio for more than 11 years. This was looked at primarily as a political move in the ongoing tussle between NCP and Congress. Immediately after its publication, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar who had resigned over corruption charges in WRD was reinstated, without clearing his name. Modus operandi of the dam scam included pushing and initiating multiple projects, incomplete works, unbelievable and irregular cost escalations post tendering: some to the tune of 300%, favoring a cartel of contractors, poor quality of construction, absence of essential studies like water availability, detailed designs, DPRs, absence of canal networks, etc.  All this culminated into the fact that after spending Rs 70000 crores on irrigation projects in the past 10 years, the actual increase in irrigated area was extremely low.

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

The white paper provided a status report of projects under the WRD, the money spent, cost escalations and reasons, status of clearances, etc. As was predicted by many, the white paper has been a white wash. Not only has it presented false information about many projects, it has chosen not to report many controversial projects, and has not given any convincing reasons for delay and cost hikes. It nonchalantly reported illegalities like the on-going work without mandatory Forest and Environmental clearances.

One of the remarkable features of the dam scam and white paper has been that both issues were highlighted and pushed by the civil society and the media and also the CAG report.  Parts of the Dam scam was unearthed after organizations like IAC (India Against Corruption), Shramik Mukti Sangathan, SANDRP, etc. which worked on individual projects, mainly of the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), strung together evidence to understand the scope and scale of the scam. One of the eloquent voices in this group has been that of Ms Anjali Damaniya, now with the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), who joined the dots across Maharashtra and collected a body of evidence which irrefutably indicated the massive corruption and problems in the WRD. Equally remarkable was Chief Engineer Vijay Pandhare’s unshaking stand against the functioning of his own department. Not surprisingly, he was deemed as being mentally imbalanced by the Ministers.[iii]

In this entire episode, Chief Minister of Maharashtra and his government succumbed to the pressures of vested interests in the pro dam lobby, losing a golden opportunity to purge the irrigation sector of its collective corruption.

The White paper was followed by the constitution of a Special investigation Team (SIT) in December 2012 under the chairpersonship of Dr. Madhav Chitale, to investigate the corruption charges and to recommend further action to the WRD. Unfortunately, not only did the constitution of the SIT interfere with taking the WRD into the court, the members, including Chitale, are all known for toeing the government line. Chitale is also known for his pro-dam stance. On top of this, the SIT refused to accept any evidence about the scam from anyone outside the WRD. This move was criticized by many, after which the SIT started accepting such submissions. However, many view the constitution only for buying time and diluting and delaying actual strong action which is deserved by the WRD. [iv] This again shows how the Maharashtra government led by Chavan did not understand the issue and did not have the courage to provide transparent governance.

Massive Drought: Monsoon of 2012 had been poor in many regions across Maharashtra. End of 2012 itself saw severe water stress in many regions and increasing conflicts. The situation needed quick appraisal and strong, urgent measures. But the MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority), expressly constituted in 2005 to provide equitable water distribution in the state was busy holding meetings about water rates.[v] By December 2012 live storages of many projects, including Ujani, touched zero. Months that followed saw one of the most severe droughts experienced by Maharashtra. This was dubbed as a drought worse that 1972 by political leaders, to underline the “natural disaster” and escape responsibility. However, SANDRP’s analysis proved that rainfall in 2012 had been more than that of 1972 in almost all of the 17worse drought-affected districts in Maharashtra. This proved that 40 years after 1972 and after spending thousands of crores on dams and institutions, the impact of a drought less severe than that of 1972 was more severe, highlighting the mismanagement of water on a large scale.[vi]

Water released from Bhama Askhed Dam to downstream Ujani, as per High Court orders. Photo: SANDRP
Water released from Bhama Askhed Dam to downstream Ujani, as per High Court orders. Photo: SANDRP

Sugarcane concentrated in the worst drought hit regions There were many reasons behind this situation, including inequitable water allocation, pollution, dam scam, etc. One of the major culprits was wide spread cultivation of water intensive sugarcane, promoted by the politicians and the government. The water use efficiency of Maharashtra’s cane farming is dismally low, as compared to other states like Uttar Pradesh.[vii] Solapur region, worse hit by drought has the maximum concentration of sugar factories (28) and maximum area under sugarcane.[viii] It also includes Union Agricultural Minister’s (Shri Sharad Pawar) constituency of Madha. Water required for cultivating sugarcane on 155 864 ha area under sugarcane in Solapur works out to be 2630 Million Cubic Meters (MCM). This is 1.73 times the live storage capacity of Ujani Dam (Live Storage: 1517 MCM), the largest reservoir in Bhima basin and third largest reservoir of Maharashtra.[ix] All this cane was crushed when drought was at its worst. In regions like Osmanabad, all of the cane over 50,000 ha was crushed when all of the dams in the region were at dead storage! The same drought-hit region was also going to host several new (mostly private) sugar factories. SANDRP analysed the impact of sugarcane on drought and highlighted this at multiple fora[x]. Some, like Rural Minister Dhobale, promised that new factories will not come up in drought regions. But this has not been implemented.

Most of the water of Ujani Dam in Solapur was diverted for sugarcane, without any checks from anyone. As it reached dead storage, drinking water to villages was affected. The High Court, while hearing a case filed by Prabhakar Deshmukh of Solapur ordered in April 2013 that dams upstream Ujani should release water immediately for the downstream Ujani Dam and other areas. The rationale behind water releases to Ujani has been questioned. Importantly, even in the village of Prabhakar Deshmukh, sugar industries continued to crush cane using huge quantity of water every day, even when he was on fast.[xi] The government has been completely ineffective in dealing with this issue.


Marathwada was most severely hit by drought and was also at the receiving end of a complex upstream-downstream water conflict. After commissioning the massive Jayakwadi Dam near Aurangabad in this region, several (more than 11) dams have been built in the upstream Godavari Basin in Nashik and Ahmednagar Districts. These dams have reduced the water flow into Jayakwadi.[xii] In keeping with Section 11 and 12 of MWRRA, All dams within a basin should have approximately same percentage of water in October each year. However, in Godavari, upstream dams held upto 90% water, even when Jayakwadi was at Dead storage. Multiple cases were filed in Aurangabad bench of High Court which twice ordered release of water from upstream dams. How much water of it actually reached Jayakwadi remains an unanswered question.

Thus the year also saw complete ineffectiveness of MWRRA as an institution. It was shamed by the High Court. More than 13 posts, including the chairperson and expert members were not filled for several years and the authority was all together nonfunctional. Rules of the Act were not made 8 years after formulating the act. They were hastily made after HC orders and very significantly, tried to delete the same clauses which were significant for equitable water distribution. This again was and is being contested by civil society, especially in Marathwada. Now, the WRD has appointed a committee under the chairpersonship of Mr. Mendhegiri, Director WALMI, specifically tasked with making MWRRA “practicable”.  Marathwada groups see this as a clear threat to Jayakwadi and have written to the government as well as Mendhegiri Committee. The road ahead seems long.[xiii]

Drought of 2013 was not without bright sparks, though. Collectors from places like Beed, Jalna and Osmanabad took some strong stands. Notable amongst these was Dr. Nagargoze from Osmanabad. Many of their recommendations were however ignored. Civil society groups became active and vocal about equitable water management. Many villages joined initiated desilting tanks and weirs. Several new watershed structures were erected. All this led to considerable storage in 2013 monsoons.

However, quick fix methods like Shirapur pattern which entail deepening and widening of streams and rivulets, was pushed indiscriminately for all, as was string of cement nallah bunds, but this again was contested for its impacts on groundwater and environment. It is now reported that Government has applied for a Rs 60,000 crores loan for drought proofing works, with support from the World Bank. Before such big ticket expenses, we need to check what happened to the thousands of crores spent on watershed management and specifically minor irrigation projects? Large number of minor irrigation projects are dysfunctional and poorly maintained, like their big counterparts. People’s participation in management is the key, but is entirely absent.[xiv] The year 2013 also saw tragic death of five engineers of the WRD, while inspecting a flawed minor irrigation project, which caved in during the inspection.

Unviable LIS also violate laws At the same time, many Lift Irrigation Schemes (LIS) of Maharashtra applied for TOR clearance or Environmental clearances with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central Government. SANDRP was following this closely and we were shocked to find that many projects which applied for clearances were already underway, some were nearly finished. All such work before clearance is in complete violation of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and EIA Notification Sept 2006. All of these projects: Lower Dnyan Ganga, Ar kacheri and Alewadi nalla, Shirpaur Lift Irrigation Scheme and Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation scheme were rejected clearance by the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects after SANDRP wrote to the EAC about the violations. Though White paper stated Forest and Environmental clearances as hurdles to its work, we see that projects do not wait for these processes and WRD pushes on with illegal works.

2013 Monsoon 2013 monsoon (June-Sept) has been satisfactory for most of the state: Vidarbha got 1360.4 mm (43% above average) rainfall, Madhya Maharashtra got 880.1 mm (21% above average) rainfall, Konkan got 3502.6 mm (20% above average) rainfall and Marathawada got 747.3 mm (9% above average) rainfall. Thus Vidarbha, already stressed by water diversions for thermal power plants and farmers plight, faced severe floods this year. Standing crops of cotton and soyabean were destroyed and the impacts of soil erosion continue till date. Same is the case with Dhule and Jalgaon districts. Operation of Dams has been held responsible for compounding the flood losses in places like Wardha and Chandrapur. Compensation announced to the farmers is meager, with some receiving single digit checks.

The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict in November 2013, disallowing Maharashtra to make any further interbasin transfers, especially through the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation project. The work on this project is already progressed to considerable extent. Mostly, this again will be money down the drain. The project also applied for environment clearance, but was denied that following SANDRP submission that work has already progressed before the clearance.

Western Ghats 2013 also saw a huge upheaval and public discourse surrounding the Western Ghats, following the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report by Prof. Madhav Gadgil and the problematic Kasturirangan Committee report, mainly to dilute WGEEP recommendations[xv]. The affidavit submitted by Principal Secretary Maharashtra on the WGEEP report is extremely flawed. Even when SANDRP and other organizations highlighted the gross violations in KIDC irrigation projects, the Forest and Irrigation department continued to ignore that[xvi]. The affidavit[xvii] says that interbasin water transfers in Western Ghats are necessary in Maharashtra for the water security of the drought affected region in the Deccan plateau, but ironically, all the current water transfers of more than 2000 MCM annually though Koyana HEP and TATA HEPs is transferring water FROM this very drought hit region TO the water surplus region of Konkan And this was not checked even when the 2012-13 drought was at its peak and organizations like SANDRP raised this issue during the drought.[xviii]


The dithering ways of Congress government at the centre and state are epitomsed in a recent event of appointing Veerapa Moily, a completely unsuitable candidate[xix], as the Union Environment Minister. One of the first persons Mr. Moily met after becoming the Minister of Environment was Mr. Prithviraj Chavan, along with Kerala CM, with the CMs advocating putting a hold on the ESAs in Western Ghats recommended by the Kasturirangan committee and Mr. Moily promptly obliging. In earlier meetings, which I attended, Mr. Chavan intentionally depicted WGEEP report in incorrect light. This may have something to do with entrenched interests another congress MLA, Narayan Rane, in mining and destructive activities in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra.

Looking at Rahul Gandhi’s absolutely incorrect depiction of Environment and Environmental clearances as hurdles at the FICCI meet, it looks like the congress establishment has just not got the message from the AAP episode in Delhi. People have indicated that they want clean, participatory and responsive governance and not just growth at any cost. The establishment seems to have no clue about the dependence of the poor on the environmental resources.

Dams around Mumbai, in the Western Ghats 2013 saw frenzied activity by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to push more and more drinking water supply dams in the tribal areas of Western Ghats MMR region. Around 12 dams are now in various stages of completion, construction and planning for the MMR Urban areas. They will together affect more than 100,000 tribals and submerge more than 22,000 hectares of land including over 7000 hectares of forests and protected areas. Looking at options that Mumbai has and its current water management, these dams are totally unjustified. Some dams like Kalu started even before statutory Forest clearance. Balganga dam is 90% complete without land acquisition! In Suseri Dam, the contractor secured permission for a farm house and built a site office instead. SANDRP and other organizations held a workshop focusing on these issues in Mumbai on the 18th December 2013.[xx]Here too, the fight for sustainable and equitable water management looks tough as the power equation is skewed in favour of the urban areas.

Forests in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 750 hectares of these forests will be submerged for the Gargai Dam. Photo: SANDRP
Forests in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 750 hectares of these forests will be submerged for the Gargai Dam. Photo: SANDRP

Significantly, it was at Mr. Chavan’s request letter to Union Environment Minister that Kalu Dam was considered again by the Forest Advisory Committee, MoEF in April 2013 and was given in-principle clearance a month later, after being categorically rejected just one year back. The dam will submerge 1000 hectares of forests in Western Ghats and will affect at least 18000 tribals. Mr. Chavan, in one of his meetings, had said that no project will go ahead without assessing its impact on the environment. I had then publicly reminded him there that no assessment has taken place for Kalu and he himself is pushing it without assessment.

The urban water scenario in Maharashtra is seriously problematic at the moment. Many urban areas are in a hurry to build new dams as the only option to their increasing water supply, but are not ready to harvest rain, or to treat and reuse any sewage they generate or to revive their rivers and other local water sources or achieve any participatory governance. Nashik, which receives additional funds from the National River Conservation Directorate for cleaning up Godavari is converting the river into a drain, while hankering for a new dam called Kikvi. SANDRP raised objections about this proposal and it is yet to receive final Forest Clearance from the MoEF.[xxi] Godavari Gatarikaran Virodhi manch, a civil society group in Nashik has filed 3 petitions against the Municipal Corporation and MIDC for polluting Godavari. The corporation is actually releasing untreated sewage in the river, just a few hundred meters upstream the holy Ramkund in which devotees take a dip and consume teerth, especially during Kumbh Mela.

All in all, 2013 exposed the gaping holes in Maharashtra’s water governance. Events which happened this year are not one-off accidents but underline systemic flaws. Some of the main factors include blind push for big dams, no post facto analysis of existing projects, absence of equitable water distribution, exclusion of communities in decision making and management, absence of transparency and accountability in management and corruption and arrogance linked to powerful vested interests.

As the year 2013 closes, Chief Minister, Union Agriculture Minister and all the dignitaries so very linked with sugar sector again came together at the Vasantdada Sugar Institute’s Annual General Meeting in December 2013. The same leaders had met at the same forum in March 2013 in the middle of the drought, when the Union Agriculture Minister had said that from next year flow irrigation to sugarcane will be stopped and drip will be made compulsory.[xxii]  But just after 9 months from the “worse drought in 40 years”, these promises seem to have been forgotten. The same Minister did not even mention drip in his December 2013 address.

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar at the award presentation ceremony at the 37th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) at Manjri in Pune, Maharashtra. Photo: ePrahaar
Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar at the award presentation ceremony at the 37th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) at Manjri in Pune, Maharashtra. Photo: ePrahaar

In conclusion 2013 ends in India on a historical note, with the Aam Admi Party taking over the reins of the government in Delhi, riding to power on the promise of clean, corruption free, pro-people and hence pro-environment governance. The key operative term here is transparent and democratic governance.

In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan assumed office on a similar promise of clean governance, but the CM and his government has completely lost this claim. It was shocking to see that the Chavan government rejected the Adarsh Scam report hat indicting the ruling Cong and NCP leaders, highlighting the misguided, dishonest and weak governance in the State. Political opposition has also completely failed here. In the dam scam or other episodes described above, neither the BJP, nor the Shiv Sena nor any other party could play an effective pro-people role.

Thus, as far as current political set up in the state is concerned, the writing is clearly on the wall. Rural poor who do not receive irrigation, farmers whose water is stolen by industries, urban poor and the middle class who do not get assured water despite the city spending thousands of crores on water supply projects, rivers which are drying up, they all need alternatives and pro people governance.

Let us hope and work to ensure that 2014 will be a different year. It is a tough road ahead.

Parineeta Dandekar ( ,

with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar (



A review of the water sector in India in 2013: Increasing signs of crisis

Year-end provides a wonderful opportunity for us to take stock of siatuations. If we look at India’s water sector, the above-average rainfall in 2013 monsoon would mean good agricultural production.

But the water sector as a whole is showing increasing signs of trouble.

Let us take few examples. The most striking crisis of 2013 was the unprecedented flood disaster in Uttarakhand in June where thousands perished. Experts and media called it a man-made disaster with a significant role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects and other unsustainable infrastructure. (SANDRPs Report) The Supreme Court order of Aug 13, 2013 directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to set up a committee to look into the role played by existing and under construction hydropower projects in the disaster and also directed that no further clearance to any hydropower projects be given till further orders. This order was possibly the only hopeful sign since Uttarakhand government, other Himalayan states or the central agencies including NDMA and MoEF, seem to have learnt no lessons from the disaster.

Destroyed Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda . Courtesy: Matu Jan Sangathan
Destroyed Vishnuprayag HEP on Alaknanda . Courtesy: Matu Jan Sangathan

Earlier in 2012-13 we saw triple crisis in Maharashtra in the form of worst drought in 40 years, worst irrigation scam in independent India and agitation against diversion of huge quantity of water from agriculture to non agriculture sector without any participatory process. In Andhra Pradesh too, a massive irrigation scam was exposed by the CAG report. In fact inequity in the distribution of costs and benefits related to water sector project lies at the heart of the bifurcation of the troubled state.

 Dry Seena River in Madha in March 2013. Madha has a dense concentration of Sugar Factories. Photo: SANDRP
Dry Seena River in Madha in March 2013. Madha has a dense concentration of Sugar Factories. Photo: SANDRP

In Chhattisgarh and downstream Orissa, thermal power plans of massive capacities are going to impact the water situation so fundamentally that big trouble is likely to erupt there, which may impact several other sectors. Madhya Pradesh government is on a big dam building spree in all its river basins, including Narmada, Chambal and also the water scarce Bundelkhand. All of these projects are for canal irrigation when canal irrigation has failed to add any area to the total net irrigation at national level for over two decades now. We could see a new massive irrigation scam in MP in coming years, in addition to agitations and interstate disputes. Gujarat too saw a very bad drought in 2012-13, and there is increasing perception that Gujarat government is by design not building the distribution network to take the Narmada Dam waters to Kutch and Saurashtra, for whom the project was justified and built.

In North East India it is now two years since massive agitation has led to stoppage of work at ongoing 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydropower project. This is India’s largest under construction hydropower project on which over Rs 5000 crores have been spent without putting in place basic studies or participatory decision making process. Similar fate awaits if the government goes ahead with other hydropower development projects in the region without learning lessons from this episode. During the year, Forest Advisory Committee’s rejection to grant forest clearance to 3000 MW Dibang and 1500 MW Tipaimukh projects in the region was a good sign, so is the stoppage of work at Maphithel dam in Manipur by the National Green Tribunal.

Breathtaking floodplains of the Lohit River, an important tributary of the Brahmaputra, threatened by the 1750 MW Lower Demwe Dam.  Photo: Neeraj Vagholikar
Breathtaking floodplains of the Lohit River, an important tributary of the Brahmaputra, threatened by the 1750 MW Lower Demwe Dam.
Photo: Neeraj Vagholikar

But we have seen no sign of improvement in environment governance. The year saw the questionable appointment of former Coal Secretary as chairman of the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Committee, by Union Ministry of Environment and Forest. In fact, several of the new appointees in the committee do not have any background in environmental issues. The year also began on the wrong note with the environment clearance to the 620 MW Luhri hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, designed to destroy the last flowing stretch of SutlejRiver in the state. In April 2013, the Forest Advisory Committee took the most shocking decision of approving the completely unjustifiable Kalu dam for Mumbai Metropolitan Region, without any assessments. The same FAC had rejected the proposal one year back and the reasons for that rejections stand even today.

In Western Ghats, the decision of the Union government of dumping the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel Report (Gadgil Report) and instead in principle accepting the-much criticized Kasturirangan committee Report has already led to full blown crisis in Kerala and is threatening to engulf more areas. This crisis was completely avoidable if the MoEF, in stead had used last two years to encourage public education on the need for implementing the Gadgil panel recommendations.

While relatively poorer states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa has shown big jump in agriculture growth rates in recent years, these have come at the cost of huge depletion in groundwater levels. As Vijayshankar of Samaj Pragati Sahyog said at a conference in Delhi recently, in Rajasthan, the level of groundwater development (ratio of annual groundwater draft to annual utilizable recharge) increased alarmingly from 59% in 1995 to 135% in 2009, indicating that Rajasthan is now in the overexploited category. Of the 236 blocks in Rajasthan, massive 164 (69%) were in over exploited category in 2009. In Madhya Pradesh, while the state groundwater use has moved from 48 to 56%, about 89 blocks out of total 313 (28%) are using unsafe levels of groundwater.

This fresh news of groundwater depletion in new areas is bad sign in medium and long range. “Over the last four decades, around 84 per cent of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come from groundwater. India is by far the largest and fastest growing consumer of groundwater in the world. But groundwater is being exploited beyond sustainable levels and with an estimated 30 million groundwater structures in play, India may be hurtling towards a serious crisis of groundwater over-extraction and quality deterioration”, said Planning Commission member Mihir Shah at a recent meeting in Delhi. 12th Five Year Plan has started the new scheme of mapping groundwater aquifers of India, which is a useful step, but we have yet to crack the puzzle of how to regulate groundwater use to ensure its equitable and sustainable use for priority sectors.

The state of our rivers as also the reservoirs and other water infrastructure is deteriorating but our water resources establishment has shown little concern for that. The IIT consortium report on the Ganga River Basin Management Plan is due soon, but if the pathetic interim report is any sign, there is little hope there.

Ganga, completely dry downstream Bhimgouda Barrage, Haridwar Photo: Parineeta, SANDRP
Ganga, completely dry downstream Bhimgouda Barrage, Haridwar Photo: Parineeta, SANDRP

The year 2012 ended with the National Water Resources Council approving the National Water Policy 2012. At the end of 2013 we have yet to see a credible plan in place for implementing the policy provisions. The year saw proposal from Union Ministry of Water Resources for a new Draft National Water Framework Law, Draft River Basin Management Bill and draft National Policy Guidelines for water sharing/ distribution amongst states. None of them have reached finality and all of them are likely to be opposed by states as an encroachment on their constitutional domain. In fact the interstate Mahadayi River conflict has reached a flashpoint with upstream Karnataka and Maharashtra starting dams in the basin without even statutory clearances from the centre or consent from downstream state of Goa.

While all this looks rather bleak, increasing agitations and informed protests all over India on water issues is certainly hopeful sign. More community groups are challenging inadequately done environmental impact assessments, cumulative impact assessments, basin studies, downstream impact assessments, concepts like eflows etc, raising very informed and pertinent questions. Most of these studies have been the monopoly of select, fraudulent EIA agencies. Critical questions indicate that these studies cannot be done excluding local communities, their knowledge and their concerns. Among other hopeful signs include some of the decisions of the National Green Tribunal on Yamuna and other rivers.

The underlying theme of these events is the increasing trend of state in India working for the interest of the corporate interests to the exclusion of people, environment and democracy. It is a challenge for us all to see how to reverse this trend.

The year 2013 also marks the end of the current term of the Union government. While there is little to hope from the two main political parties ruling the centre and the states mentioned above, perhaps the emerging political alternative in Delhi will grow and move in right direction. Let us hope for the best.

 Himanshu Thakkar (,

(An edited version of this was published in January 2014 issue of Civil Society, see:


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:


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,

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

4)    Purandare Pradeep (2012): “Canal irrigation in Maharashtra – Present Status”, Dams, Rivers & People, July – Aug 2012,

5)    Purandare Pradeep (2012): “Water Auditing of Irrigation Projects in Maharashtra: Myth & Reality”, Dams, Rivers & People, Sept-Oct, 2012 ,

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

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

8)    Purandare Pradeep (2013): “Wanted – Rule of Law”,



Where is Maharashtra’s Raju Swami?

This is from, arguably, India’s most celebrated movie, where a reluctant, accidental swami is trapped into going on a fast-unto-death for bringing rains to a drought stricken place. His this fast achieves a string of miracles: uniting the swami with his mother (on the 6th day of the fast), his beloved Rosy (played by Waheeda Rehman, the most beautiful star of Indian Cinema. She falls to his feet just when a journalist asks swami if he has ever been in love) and his closest friend[1] and brings millions to a remote village temple.

It also brings rains.


In an interview to a foreign TV channel, the swami is asked if he believes it will rain due to his fast. The swami says, there are these thousands of people who believe in me and now I have started believing in their faith! This answer sounds a bit democratic, does it not?


Fact is, this reluctant swami did not even believe in God (at least till midway through the fast), as he says in one of his moments of self doubt. In another moment of self doubt, he grabs some bananas offered to the gods in the temple and is seen on verge of eating them.

Before the cruel drought and ensuing fast, swami narrates a story to the villagers, describing a drought that is akin to what the poorest in Maharashtra faced this summer: there has been thirst, hunger, riots, deaths and unrest. Politicians of Maharashtra are fond of saying (though rather incorrectly), that this drought is worse than the one in 1972, which was, not too long after the film was released.

Yes as you may have guessed it by now, the name of the film is Guide, one of the most remarkable films of Indian cinema worth recalling in this centenary year of Bollywood and name of this Swami in the film is Raju, played by the legendary actor Dev Anand.


The swami is in constant dialogue with Raju and in one doubting moment, Raju questions swami, do you really think there can be any relation between hunger of one person and the clouds? Have you too started believing in such things like these uneducated people? And the swami answers, “I do not know, Raju. I have started thinking of a lot of things that I never thought necessary. Question is not whether it will rain or not, question is not if I will live or die. Question is, is there someone who runs this place or not? If there is no one who runs this place, then it does not matter if I live or die. There is no point in living blindly in a blind world. And if there is someone, then it is to be seen if that some body listens to its poor subjects or not.”


This sounds like a search for a functioning and responding Maharashtra government, the search in real Maharashtra this year is yet to end. The drought, as we wrote earlier[2], is largely man-made and was completely avoidable, but there was no sign of a functioning or responsive government taking steps to avoid it. Like the Swami says, bigger question is if there is someone responsible for the avoidable disaster. It is this same question that has haunted drought stricken of Maharashtra.


In another sequence in the film, Rosy asks Raju, resting on her shoulder, have you gone to sleep? And he meaningfully answers, I was sleeping so far, but have started waking up.


The famous film of 1965 ends with the rains and death of the swami (even though it is unusual for a Hindi film hero to die).


Leaving the miracle (and other clichés of the film) aside, with monsoon round the corner, Maharashtra is close to that GUIDE moment which hopefully will end the misery of lakhs of people.  However, this end of misery in Maharashtra will not be due to specific efforts from anyone. For there seems to be no one in sight, ready to take the trouble, leave aside an extreme step like fast-unto-death.

Like Raju’s answer to Rosy, let us hope that people and the administration have indeed woken up to ensure that another man-made drought does not occur. With climate change on us, the frequency of such calamities is only going to increase. But this hope of Maharashtra waking up seems pretty filmy at the moment.

It seemed that the Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan wanted to be the messiah of Maharashtra when he promised investigation into the irrigation scam and Maharashtra’s deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar had to resign. However, Chavan proved to be a fake messiah seeing his refusal to launch any credible investigation into the massive Rs 70 000 crore scam or any noteworthy action against the corrupt. Chavan’s initiative on June 9, 2013[3], inaugurating 1497 cement check dams across the 15 taluksa in drought prone areas of the state and declaring that “small dams are key for drought free Maharashtra” is a welcome step.

His promise of participation and transparency in the scheme will be realized or not is yet to be seen.

And till then, Maharashtra will be waiting for a Raju Guide of its own..

-Himanshu Thakkar


Dams as Pawns: Bhama Askhed, Pune

On 9 April, 2013, the Bombay High Court, in response to a PIL filed by Mohol Taluka Shetkari Sangh ordered the Water Resources Department (WRD) of the Government of Maharashtra to release ‘sufficient’ water to Ujani Dam (the largest dam in the Bhima Basin) within 24 hours to meet the drinking water needs of drought-stricken villages downstream Ujani.

In the 24 hours that followed, WRD zeroed in on the release of 3 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Bhama Askhed and 1 TMC from Andra. The water releases from both the dams were ongoing as on 1 May 2013, when I visited the Bhama Askhed dam. By then, 2 TMC water had already been released. There are no credible reports about how much water from this release has reached Ujani, or how much will eventually reach. When the water was released on 10 April 2013, the Chief Engineer, Bhima Basin had reportedly said that it will take 6-7 days to reach Ujani backwaters, without mentioning the rate of release. 26 days later, the release is still on.


While water releases from a distance of over 205 kilometers for a region like Solapur, which has mismanaged its water to the hilt by using all its water for sugarcane and sugar factories even in this severe drought year, as well as the merits of the High Court decision can be debated, it is important to see the implications of such decisions from the perspective of those at the source: around Bhama Askhed Dam. The choice of Bhama Askhed and Andra Dams was not based on any participatory process, but was a closed-doors decision taken by the WRD, allegedly because it will be politically impossible to release water from dams reserved for Pune’s drinking water (Although Pune dams are still releasing water for downstream sugarcane).

How come the Bhama Askhed dam had 124 million cubic metres (57 per cent of live storage capacity) on April 8, 2013 (practically the end of the irrigation season) in a drought year? In fact, the live storage of the dam was filled up to 66 per cent on the same date in 2012 and 74 per cent in 2011. It seems the dam remains hugely underutilized. One key reason is that Bhama Askhed has no canals built for irrigation, as per the original plans even after 18 years of construction initiation.

Away from the media attention, the project-affected people of Bhama Askhed Dam were on a protest fast at the Dam wall for four days after the release of water from it for Ujani started. Their demand: they have not been rehabilitated even after 13 years of initiating dam filling in the dam. They should be rehabilitated first, should receive water for drinking and irrigation on priority and only then should the water be released for the downstream.

Let us take a look at Bhama Askhed as a representative of dam-centered water management in Maharashtra, a state with maximum dams in the country, to see the extent of fulfilment of the stated objectives of a dam and other underlying realities.

The Dam

Bhama Askhed Dam on Bhama River, a short tributary of Bhima River, received administrative sanction in 1992 with the explicit objective of providing irrigation to 37 villages in Khed, 18 villages in Haveli and 9 villages in Daund talukas of Pune district with a total command area of 29,465 hectares, as per the White Paper on Irrigation Projects brought out by the WRD. It was to have two canals: a right bank canal (RBC) of 105 kilometres and a left bank canal (LBC) of 14 kilometres. Construction on the dam started in 1995.

According to its last administrative sanction in 2012, the cost of the dam has now risen to Rs. 575.84 crore from its initial Rs 112.96 crores in 1992. The dam has a live storage capacity of 7.6 TMC. Canal-work has not been done even according to the claims of the WRD. Right Bank Canal is barely 18 kilometres complete, in patches. Left Bank Canal work is not even initiated. Of the intended 30,000 hectares to be irrigated, not a single hectare receives irrigation through canals, since the RBC work stops just about 200 mts from the dam site, before resuming after a distance, but this discontinuity means water cannot be taken to any of the command area.

Bhama Askhed Dam Pic: SANDRP
Bhama Askhed Dam Pic: SANDRP

Tragedy of the displaced

Bhama Askhed Dam submerged 2,259 hectares of land, affecting three villages completely and nearly 20 villages partially, displacing 1414 landholders, approximately 7000 people in all. When we had a meeting with some of these affected people, the Sarpanch of Roundhalwadi (a fully affected village) said that of the 1414 landholders, till date only 56 landholders have been rehabilitated in the command area of the dam. When affected people were paid compensation, there was a clause that they have to pay back 65 per cent of the compensation amount within 40 days to be eligible later for land in the command area of Bhama Askhed. When a majority among the people signed the compensation papers, this clause was not pointed out to them and most of them being uneducated were unable to read this.

Even among the 111 landholders who paid 65 per cent of the amount, only 56 received land in the command. In every village, there are nearly 20 per cent people who neither received land, nor money for the land and livelihoods that they lost. They eventually moved to the High Court in 2007 and the case is still pending. We met farmers who had lost all their land: fields as well as homes without receiving land compensation till now, and have sent rehabilitation claims four times or more, but have received no response.

As in the case of most dam projects, the rehabilitated villages such as Roundhalwadi, Parale, Anawale, Waki lack basic amenities, do not have fully functional drinking water sources, irrigation schemes, assured electricity or proper roads. Some villages like Kasari are surrounded by water on three sides without a proper road.

Affected villages also supported 25-30 settlements of landless tribals: Thakars and Katkaris who mainly depended on the forests and fishing for survival, without owning any land. They received no compensation for losing their livelihoods from fishing and forests. Once the dam was built, fishing contracts were awarded to a city-based contractor in five-year cycles and locals were not allowed to fish in the dam. No one knows what happened to these tribal settlements; they just vanished in thin air!

18 years from initiation of dam construction, the problems of project-affected communities are far from solved. Local farmers have organised protests in 2009, 2010, 2012 and now in 2013. Every time they are given assurances, but the problems remain. In the words of Devidas Bandal, an affected villager fighting the HC case, “We do not say no to releasing water to Ujani, we only ask that we, who lost our lands and livelihoods, also be given water for drinking and irrigation and basic amenities in rehabilitated villages. Is that too much to ask for?”

Water to the industries

In 2005, Chakan MIDC started coming up in a part of the command area of Bhama Askhed Dam, we were told. This was also the same land promised to farmers for resettlement. Now, the land prices here have skyrocketed and affected farmers say that administration will never resettle them here, though this area lies in the command. Letting MIDC encroach upon the command area of a dam already underway, that too on land which has been promised for rehabilitation, is unjustifiable. In addition, Chakan MIDC lifts water directly from Bhama Askhed Dam. This water allocation was never planned. Now, with expanding MIDC and a huge real estate boom in Chakan, the development moves closer and closer to the land reserved for the canals, which should have been ready many years back.

So, for whom has this dam been built?

When quizzed about canals, the WRD officials say that there is resistance for land acquisition for building canals. Some of the farmers in the downstream are lifting water from 26 KT weirs built by the WRD on Bhama and Bhima Rivers for utilising water releases from Bhama Askhed Dam. They seemed to have been encouraged to use the water from the weirs built by the same irrigation department that has not built the canals. Now some of them are naturally resisting land acquisition for canals, since they already have irrigation from the KT weirs, and the irrigation department is using this as a reason for not building canals in the planned command area. In the regions irrigated by weirs, sugarcane flourishes, increasing inequity again. A large part of the area now irrigated thus was not even part of the original command area.

Water for Pune Municipal Corporation

A huge reservoir storing 7.6 TMC water without canals is an attractive proposition for many. According to a Government Resolution (GR) dated December 2011, 1.2 TMC water from Bhama Askhed has been allocated to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for drinking water purposes. In its explosive growth, Pune city wastes and pollutes water with impunity, has unchecked leakages and huge inequity in water supply. But having a source like Bhama Askhed makes it easy for Pune to forget these worries and simply buy water from the water resource department.

According to the same GR, PMC is supposed to pay Rs. 48.76 crore to WRD for re-establishing irrigation infrastructure. This is at the rate of 1 lakh rupees per hectare, which means that irrigation for 4876 hectares of command area is losing this water. Again, this has been an entirely non transparent and non-participatory decision. While the White Paper laments the funds crunch to take up canal work, it does not mention these unplanned diversions or this added revenue and how it plans to use this for either rehabilitation or the command area.

A dam, which was sanctioned on its claimed potential to irrigate nearly 30,000 hectares in a semi-arid area, is already built at a huge economic and social cost and is storing water earmarked for the command area that should receive this water. But the reasons behind the delay in starting canal works of Bhama Askhed are incomprehensible. The contractors, engineers, politicians, industrialists and even fish contractor have profited, but no benefits accrue to recognised or unrecognised affected population or intended beneficiaries as per the original plans. While unplanned sugarcane, Pune Municipal Corporation and Chakan MIDC have emerged as the unplanned beneficiaries of these dams, the farmers in command, for whom the dam was justified, and the project-affected people have been the losers in this game.

Bhama Askhed is not an isolated example showing water diversions from irrigation projects to non-irrigation uses. Notable examples are Hetawane Dam in Pen and Surya Dam in Dahanu, among many others.

It seems as if the dams have become pawns in the hands of engineers, bureaucrats and politicians, to be used as and when required for whatever ulterior motive they might serve – anything but their stated purpose. It is not a coincidence then that despite spending 70,000 crore rupees on irrigation in Maharashtra for ten years, the irrigated area is showing no net increase and thousands of villages are parched despite building multiple dams in the vicinity.

While participatory, transparent and accountable water management is crucial in all years, its importance is particularly highlighted in a drought year like 2012-13. Let us hope that all concerned, including farmers, media, civil society as well as the High Court look at the complete picture and are able to take collective action on this.

Parineeta Dandekar 
08 May 2013

REad the full artcile here:


How Efficient is Maharashtra’s Sugarcane Crop?

That question may sound slightly irreverent and irrelevant.

Maharashtra is the highest sugar producing state of India. Its sugarcane yield in 2011-12 was 80.1 t/ha, compared to the yield of 59.6 t/ha for the second highest sugar producing state Uttar Pradesh and national average of 70.3 t/ha. The average sugar recovery rate of the four sugarcane cultivation methods in Maharashtra was 11.32% in 2011-12, the recovery rate of Adsali sugarcane was even higher at 12.3%. The Maharashtra average was way above that of UP at 9.16% and all India rate of 10.2%. In fact the land productivity adjusted for recovery rate is even higher for Maharashtra at 98.8 t/ha (161.14 t/ha for Adsali) compared to 61.04 t/ha for UP. The yield per month when adjusted for recovery rate is 7.56 t/ha/month compared to 6.33 t/ha/month for UP.


 So with the highest production, high yield and high recovery rate, there should be no question of efficiency of Maharashtra sugarcane crop.


Methods of Sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra Let us understand the basic parameters of how sugarcane crop is grown in Maharashtra, see the table 1 below.

 Table 1. Basic parameters of sugarcane crop in Maharashtra in 2011-12


Source: Price Policy for Sugarcane: the 2013-14 Sugar season, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Aug 2012, Table 5.1

 Of the four sugarcane cultivation methods prevalent in Maharashtra, Ratoon is most popular with 40% cane area under it, possibly since it has shortest duration at 11 months, fitting almost perfectly with the annual Oct to March cane crushing season. Same can be said about Suru method, having duration of 12 months and coverage of 20%, both methods requiring 22.5 irrigations, each of 7.5 cm depth. Adsali method has the highest yield and recovery rate, but only 10% of the sugarcane area is under this method, possibly since it has the longest duration at 17 months. It is most water intensive, requiring 32.5 irrigations. Pre-seasonal method, as the name suggests, is planted about 2.5 months before the season, and stands between Ratoon and Adsali in terms of duration, yield and recovery rate.


 Water Productivity The latest report from CACP from which the above figures are taken, however states that land productivity alone does not give correct picture, “…as land and water are increasingly becoming scarce in India with high opportunity costs. Therefore, the real resource cost of growing sugarcane in different regions cannot be correctly compared unless land productivity is normalised for the time duration of crop, its water intake, and its recovery rate.” To make such a comparison, CACP made a table, a part of which is given above in Table 1.

 However, CACP has gone a step further than the figures in Table 1 (though there is an error in CACP calculations here, we have pointed this out to CACP). CACP has calculated water productivity of different sugarcane methods in Maharashtra and compared them with the water productivity in UP. The average water productivity of sugarcane in Maharashtra comes to 0.403 T/ha/month/’000 m3 water, compared to 1.11 for UP. This means that while UP seemed inefficient in sugarcane productivity in everyway, Maharashtra is inefficient by 175.43% when productivity per unit of water consumption is considered.

Dry Seena in Madha Block Solapur

 How is this possible? The reason why sugarcane productivity of UP in terms of water is higher is simple: UP sugarcane crop is of shorter 9-10 months duration and requires only 7-8 irrigations, approximately less than once a month. As against this, Maharashtra sugarcane crop requires irrigation every 15 days and that too for longer duration. To put it another way, while on average Maharashtra needs 25 irrigations for sugarcane crop, UP needs 7.6.

Water required per kg of sugar The CACP report further calculates that in Maharashtra every kilogram of sugar needs 2068 litres of water, where as in UP the requirement is almost half, at 1044 litres. This is indeed a telling figure. Add to it, as CACP report puts it, “real cost of water in Maharashtra is at least 2 to 3 times higher than that in UP”.

In response to a specific question, CACP chairman Dr Ashok Gulati wrote to me that this water calculation does not include the water used by sugar mills. If water used by sugar mills and water used in further downstream processing is included, the water consumption in sugar production is will go up substantially.

This analysis is very relevant for a state like Maharashtra that has much lower rainfall and per capita water availability compared to northern states like UP and Bihar. It is even more relevant when 79.5% of Maharashtra’s sugarcane is grown in drought prone districts as we showed in another blog.

How sugar mills lock up Maharashtra’s water future Considering water becomes even more important, looking at the kind of impact sugarcane cultivation is having in Maharashtra this drought season. Here it may be recalled that sugarcane is a long duration trans-season crop that has implications for water consumption beyond the point where decision for planting is taken. So even if the rainfall is normal or above when the crop is planted, the same crop will continue to have high water demand in the following year when it may be drought year. This creates really serious implications for water availability in the drought year particularly in drought prone, low rainfall areas. The impact on water available becomes even more serious in a state like Maharashtra where sugar mills are set up irrespective of water availability, violating the norms of distances, where sugar factories operate at way beyond their sanctioned capacity, where they violate the norms of no more than 5% of cultivable land under sugarcane, they dump untreated effluents into water bodies, thus polluting the water in such water bodies and so on. The lock in becomes even more stronger with the setting up of sugar mills, since their owners would like to get maximum cane every year, irrespective of water availability situation.

Sugarcane going to factories in drought affected Nagar District in March 2013

 The CACP report says Maharashtra is further worse off in terms of cost of providing water for sugarcane, “If this costing is included in calculating water productivity, the difference in sugarcane yields will be so high that, Uttar Pradesh and presumably Bihar, would turn out to be the most efficient producers of sugar per unit cost of water, adjusted for time duration and recovery.” CACP goes on to say that Maharashtra sugarcane grown on 3% of the total cropped area of the state, takes away 60% of irrigation water in the state, “leading to massive inequity in the use of water within the state”. These figures might be slightly outdated considering the expansion of sugar factories and sugarcane cultivation in recent years.

Band aid solutions won’t help One recommendation CACP report makes for Maharashtra is that much of sugarcane in the state must be brought under drip. Even the Chief Minister of State and the Union Agricultural Minister has made same recommendation. We are not sure if this is really a solution since this is unlikely to curb the unsustainable levels of sugarcane in drought prone districts of Maharashtra, considering the politics involved in the issue with large number of politicians owning sugar factories.

As per the Maharashtra Economic Survey figures for last two years, Maharashtra has provided subsidy for drip irrigation in 5.68 lakh ha and for sprinkler irrigation in 2.33 lakh ha between 2005-06 and 2011-12, thus providing subsidy for covering 8.01 lakh ha for these two techniques in these seven years. However, we see no impact of so much area under the drip and sprinkler irrigation on water situation in the state, nor do we see much of sugarcane under drip. State institute like the VSI does not even know how much sugarcane is under drip even though it has a section just for drip irrigation. More investment in drip for sugarcane is likely to give reasons for expansion of sugarcane empire in drought prone districts, in addition to opening the doors for more corruption.

 Another method called Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative can help the farmers to produce at least 20 per cent more sugarcane, and that too with 30 per cent of reduced water consumption and 20 per cent less chemical inputs. CACP report, though is silent on this.


Options like drip irrigation and sustainable sugarcane initiative should be explored for sugarcane cultivation in relatively water rich areas. However, in immediate future, Maharashtra needs to cancel all new licenses for sugar mills and put a halt to new mills and expansion of existing sugar mills in drought prone districts. For existing sugar factories, it needs to decide the level of sustainable sugarcane cultivation in each drought prone district through a transparent, independent process. Immediately in this drought year, no more water should be allowed to be used for sugarcane cultivation in drought prone districts.

Maharashtra faces a very challenging water future even if all these steps are implemented. Its water future is very bleak if no serious move is made in this direction.

Himanshu Thakkar (

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (


1. Price Policy for Sugarcane: the 2013-14 Sugar season, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Aug 2012

2. How is 2012-13 Maharashtra Drought worse than the one in 1972?, March 2013, SANDRP,

3. Economic Survey for Maharashtra for 2011-12 and 2012-13

4. Sugarcane leaves farmers crushed, Business Line, April 15, 2013