Free Press Journal

Maharashtra witnessing politics of water


PRAKASH BAL JOSHI

Despite all the efforts during the last 50 years, Maharashtra faces perennial scarcity of water which remains the main factor behind imbalance of regional development. No wonder then that during every Budget sessio

n of the state legislature held at the beginning of summer season, a heated debate is held on the sensitive issue of water supply for drinking, irrigation and industrial purpose.

Experts predict that due to depleting water resources, climate changes and erratic and inadequate rains due to large scale denudation of forest, world is heading towards water wars. The situation in Maharashtra is not that serious but alarming enough to serve as a wakeup call. Maharashtras irrigation potential is also very meager due to its natural surroundings demanding better and proper utilization of available water resources.

Maharashtra is a leading industrialized state in India, but it has achieved development of only 13 per cent of its irrigation potential which is far below the national average of about 33 per cent. The land developed so far in the state by the large and medium- sized irrigation projects is only about 56 per cent of the currently identified ultimate potential of 41 lakh hectares.

According to the Maharashtra Water Irrigation Commission ( 1999), considering water availability in river basins and cultivable land, the irrigation potential of the State can be increased by use of modern technique only up to 126 lakh hectares.

This speaks volumes of lack of proper water management during last couple of decades. All these factors lead to clash of interest and lots of politics when monsoons fail and people suffer great difficulties due to water scarcity. People, especially women, have to wait for water tankers or walk for miles to fetch water.

For the first time, union agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar has spoken about drought- like conditions prevailing in the state and criticized CM Prithviraj Chavan and Governor K Sankaranarayanan over inept handling of drought situation in the State. NCP is major partner of the ruling alliance and looks after major departments related with water supply and irrigation. Pawars statement has, in a subtle way, sought to distance his party from the scarcity situation in the state without upsetting the Congress.

Obviously it has upset the Congress very much by this example of Pawar occupying opposition space by criticizing his own government.

Chavan, on a tour to scarcity- affected parts of the state, is in a dilemma over how to react to the acerbic criticism by Pawar for inept handling of the situation. What hurt him more was observation by Pawar that situation cannot be tackled by sitting under a tree and eating ” thecha bhakari”. This is not the first time Pawar has taken a dig at Chavan who is taking it lying down since he has to run the coalition government.

What is surprising is the fact that Pawar also criticized Maharashtra governor Sankaranarayanan. Pawar is not known for criticizing constitutional posts.

Pawar claimed that he had suggested the governor to undertake tour of the drought- affected area.

Though the governor of a state is a statutory post, the state legislature has authorized him to supervise Budget for ensuring equitable distribution on funds under the constitutional provision of development boards for backward regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada. There is a long history behind setting up of these development boards as legislators from Vidarbha and Marathwada had been complaining that funds available for development were being usurped by powerful lobbies from Western Maharashtra and two regions which joined hands with Western Maharashtra to form the state of Marathispeaking people were at an disadvantageous position.

After much dilly dallying, a fact- finding committee was set up under renowned economist Dr V. M. Dandekar during the tenure of then CM Vasantdada Patil. Dr Dandekar committee studied the issue and concluded that there was reall