Maharashtra has always been a water deficient state with many of it sub regions getting less rainfall. On one side is the Konkan (including Mumbai and Thane) region with an average rainfall of 2500-3000 mm annually and parts of Western Maharashtra region like Kolhapur which get an average rainfall of 1070 mm annually and exceptions like the popular hill station Mahabaleshwar which receive an average of 5820 mm of rain annually (Mahabaleshwar received 7050 mm rain this year). On the other hand the sub regions of Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra receive 850 mm, 1100 mm and 700 mm of annual rainfall respectively.
This year Marathwada is facing a rain deficit of about 35-40% with just one month of rainfall remaining. Districts like Ahmednagar and Jalgaon in North Maharashtra are also likely to end with a deficient rainfall this year. Also almost all districts of Vidarbha will end up with deficient rainfall, though it won’t be as severe as in Marathwada. Since most agriculture outside Western Maharashtra is rain fed and is not supported by irrigation facilities, the shortage of water for agriculture and drinking would become severe from February next year onwards. Marathwada has being facing drought for the last five decades.
The Fadnavis government in it’s first term started it’s ambitious micro-irrigation project called Jalyukt Shivar (literally translated as “water in your farm”). This entailed doing a water budgetting of every individual village by taking the villagers onboard as stakeholders and then making micro structures to hold rain water and enable percolation of rain into the soil, to increase the water table. This project was a welcome change from the previous Cong-NCP state government policy of constructing big dams. This policy led to corruption of about 70,000 crore and increase of just 1% in the irrigation capacity of the state. As against this about 8,000 crores were spent on the Jalyukt Shivar program in the last five years and about 16,521 villages (out of 19,000 water deficient villages in the state) have had some work done under the Jalyukt Shivar scheme. Also the government gave a subsidy of Rs. 50,000 to eligible farmers to build a medium sized farm pond on or near their agricultural land. About 1.2 lakh such farm ponds were created between 2016 and 2019. The state officially claims to have created an additional water storage capacity of 17,000 TMC spread over 16,521 villages since 2015. However, Jalyukt Shivar was just a start as it’s success depended on rainfall which has become erratic over the years. A poor monsoon would mean less water stored in the farm ponds and weirs created for storing the water.
The logical next step was inter-linking of rivers (through tunnels or pipelines) and to pump water from perennial rivers (having excess water) to rivers which are rain fed. The idea of using the excess water from rivers in the Konkan to the drought hit Marathwada and Vidarbha has been discussed since several decades. But the mighty Sahyadri mountains that divide the Konkan and the desh (literally the deccan have hampered any serious implementation of any such schemes. However in the recent five years, states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have attempted this through the Polavaram and Kaleshwaram projects respectively. These projects could potentially change the face of these states, especially the parched state of Telangana.
After deliberating for many years, finally the Maharashtra government has decided to connect the western channel rivers in the Konkan region like the Ulhas, Vaitarna, Nar-Par and Damanganga that have an excess capacity of 167 TMC, most of which runs into the sea. These rivers will be interlinked to other rivers and about 57.91 TMC water would be diverted to regions Marathwada, North Maharashtra and the sprawling mega urban spread of Mumbai-Thane. These western channel rivers are located geographically close the the Godavari valley and this makes the task of inter-linking relatively easier. Check the chart below which explains the inter-linking of rivers planned by the Maharashtra government
The above mentioned rivers would be connected to the Godavari river basin and about 15.6 TMC water will be supplied to Marathwada through the Godavari river basin. The largest dam in Marathwada is the Jayakwadi dam (capacity: 102 TMC) located in Paithan near Aurangabad. It’s catchment area is fed by the Godavari basin. This year excess rains in the Nashik and Ahmednagar districts led to excess water being released from around 21 dams located in these districts into the Godavari. This excess water travelled downstream towards the Jayakwadi and the huge dam called as “the lifeline of the Marathwada region” was filled upto 91% of it’s capacity. This despite scanty rainfall in Marathwada which resulted in other major dams reaching dead storage levels.
Also the Nar-Par rivers would be linked to the Girana river and would provide 10.76 TMC water to the North Maharashtra region, which also faces drought like situation. About 31.60 TMC water will be transferred from the Damanganga to the Pinjal river and would provide excess water to the Mumbai-Thane region. The population of this region is about 30% of the entire state population and is expected to keep growing for the next two-three decades. This would provide for the water needs of this region till the year 2060. The state government would get funds from the BMC for this linking project.
The Maharashtra government is also planning to build a water grid in Marathwada with the help of Israel’s national water carrier Mekorot, at a cost of Rs. 10,000 crore. The Israeli company plans to connect the northern and southern parts of Marathwada with the help of a a network of pipelines. The northern region receives good rains, while there is a dearth of water in the southern district. At least 11 dams, including Manjara, Siddheshwar, Yeldari, Lower Dudhna, Vishnupuri, Majalgaon, Lower Manar, Upper Painganga, Sina Kolegaon, Jayakwadi, and Lower Terna, will be interlinked as part of the water grid plan. Thus, water from one dam can be transferred to another as per water need of that specific district. Now if we link it to the above mentioned river linking project, the 15.60 TMC water will primarily come into the Jayakwadi dam. The water can then be transferred to the other dams using the water grid. The water will meet the drinking and irrigation needs of the entire Marathwada region.
The Maharashtra government has also approved Rs. 8,294 crore project for interlinking the perennial Wainganga river flowing through Eastern Vidarbha region with the Nalganga river flowing through Western Vidarbha. A 480 km long tunnel would be built for diverting water for the irrigation and drinking needs of Western Vidarbha. Also this would help in meeting the future drinking water and industrial needs of Nagpur city.
These projects are the veins that can provide water to the various regions and sub divisions of Maharashtra. The government would also build smaller arteries in the form of pipelines for providing drinking water to homes in all of rural Maharashtra by 2024, as per Modi governments promise. This will ensure that water will reach individual villages. Since water is a scarce natural resource, the state government would also enforce judicial use of water by farmers by using modern techniques like drip irrigation, especially in the cultivation of sugarcane. Sugarcane cultivation in parched Marathwada has led to further depletion of water table, as farmers dug deeper bore wells for providing water for the water guzzler sugarcane crop. Though the government cannot stop the farmers from growing sugarcane which is the easiest to cultivate and a lucrative cash crop. The middle ground would be enforcing use of drip irrigation to ensure judicious use of water.
Also the Maharashtra government would be well served by working proactively on proper rehabilitation of displaced villagers, on account of the land acquired for the river linking project. Being proactive on rehabilitation would provide less fodder to the environmentalists, who seem to care more about their fifteen minutes of fame instead of caring about the environment. Also ensuring better rehabilitation of the displaced people is the responsibility of a caring government. Fadnavis government has a chance to show the caring side of his government, something the Cong-NCP government never showed in it’s 15 year tenure.
Politically the plan of Devendra Fadnavis to make Maharashtra drought free in the next five years, could pay good dividends in the upcoming assembly election as well as in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in 2024; if these projects are completed on time. Fadnavis has been known to work on projects on a mission mode and he deploys his own war room for faster tracking and implementation of projects. The challenges would come in the form of activism by the courts and opposition by the environmentalists. Finally, a drought free Maharashtra would find it easier to achieve the ambitious target of being a $1 trillion dollar economy by 2025 (instead of by 2030 in the current course of action).
So on this auspicious day of Ganesh Chaturthi, I pray to the reigning diety of Maharashtra, Lord Ganesh to provide his blessings to the attempts to make Maharashtra drought free.