Maharashtra is one state which is water-scarce and water-rich at the same time. However, the distribution of water in this state – with the Sahayadris on one side and the Deccan plateau on the other – renders many parts of the state a drought zone where the poor still have to travel miles for potable water. The state government launched the Groundwater Act in 2009 to deal with depleting water reserves underground. To regulate such a diverse state can indeed be a herculean task.
K P Bakshi, Chairman of Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), is leaving no stone unturned to improve the water resource management of the state. In an interview with Jescilia Karayamparambil, Bakshi talks about the role of MWRRA and water resource management in the state.
How effective has the Groundwater Act been?
The Groundwater Act, which came into existence in 2009, made a provision for state groundwater authority. In 2013, the Maharashtra government decided that the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) will also become the state's groundwater authority.
Under the Act, rules are supposed to be prescribed by the government of Maharashtra. The government has come up with the draft rules (comments on the same were invited).
This happened towards the end of the last government. At present, I have heard, the new government has prepared responses to public comments received for the draft rules. The entire implementation of the Groundwater Act in Maharashtra will be fully operational after the rules are published.
There are many sections in the Act that require regulation. So opacity in rules and regulations has prevented us – the government as well as the water regulator – from taking concrete actions. However, other sections in the Act like registration of wells, wells sensors, procedure for permitting drilling borewells or open well, etc have been initiated by MWRRA.
There are around 33,000 wells that are being monitored by the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency. This is to monitor if there is a depletion of water taking or not. This system has helped issue a notification in areas where the level is low.
But in areas where cash crops like sugarcane, banana, etc are grown, the situation has not improved much. In such areas, the regulator has insisted that farmers should switch to micro-irrigation and the deadline for the same is October 30, 2020. At present, most large farmers have switched to this, small and marginal farmers still have to shift. While the switchover is taking place, the levels are still not satisfactory.
Around 60-65 per cent irrigation is dependent on groundwater and that needs to change.
To witness the full impact, the Act has to be operationally fully.
How many years will it take for the Act to be full-functional?
It should take another two years. This period includes tweaking of new rules and all the relevant teething problems.
Is MWRRA working with NGOs to understand the space better?
Yes, we are working with many NGOs that are involved in good work. We invite them to exchange ideas and understand the ground reality.
What is the role of the regulator in case there are more water tankers in the city of Mumbai?
Firstly, MWRRA deals with bulk water supply like dams and other water bodies. So, tankers do not come under us directly. If tankers are getting used unnecessarily in any region, we will raise it with local authorities and ask them to give a valid reason to use so many water tankers. This only happens when anyone raises cognisance of the usage of water tankers. So, we take up quasi-judicial hearings.
What has the response been from BMC over the excessive usage of water tankers?
We have seen a lot of water tankers in the maximum city. After some activists and media raised this issue, we sent out a letter to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. We have asked them to submit a statement of fact — how much water the corporation has drawn from the dams; how much is required for every household and why so many tankers are required to service the society.
MWRRA has already sent them reminders in the last two months. So, they have to respond to that letter with facts and figures. Post that, the necessary regulatory instructions will be passed. The delay in submitting the data also depends on the complexity of the information — as the corporation has to collect this data from all the wards and tankers.
When will the next hike in the water tariff happen?
We hope to publish the details of the hike in the water tariff for the next three years (2021-2023) by June this year. At present, the tariff setting exercise is underway. So, we are going through public consultations for the same. The tariff for the present year is already set.
Would you need extra funds to install sensors in more wells?
There is a provision to fund the sensors in the budget. Finance is not a big issue because the amount of money required for sensors is not substantial. The process of selection of wells and installing sensors are bigger tasks.
Many countries around the world are doing well in terms of recycling of water, however, India is not anywhere close. What can India do to manage its untreated water?
In the case of Maharashtra, installed capacity for recycling in the state is almost 70 per cent, but only 30-35 per cent of the wastewater is treated. The regulator has given the recommendation to the State Water Council about the treatment of wastewater. As soon as the state approves the recommendation, it will be mandatory to treat all sewage water. By 2020, 100 per cent sewage water must be treated. Of that, at least 30 per cent should be utilised either in agriculture or domestic use.
What is the progress made in setting up the data centre?
The portal will collect data from all water-related departments. Once the portal is set up, then we will receive real-time information. In principle, the data centre has received approval. Now, data development work will be allotted to Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre.
What are the few things that other states in India should adopt to manage water?
I would suggest that every state — with sufficient or less water — must attach a lot of importance to water scarcity or water usage. They should set-up an independent regulator. In the entire country, Maharashtra was the first state to think about having a water regulator. So, based on my experience, I would say it is critical.
Second, we must start charging all sectors based on water consumption — be it agriculture, industry, or domestic. Nothing should be free of cost.
Third, domestic water must be treated and recycled. So that freshwater requirement goes down.
Next is creating more awareness about water. The importance of water must be inculcated right from childhood. More awareness should be created around sustainable agriculture.
We should focus on innovations in the water sector. Even if we adopt technology from other countries or states, such technology must be localised before use.