‘Jalyukt Shivar’: More questions than answers

This is the first in a series of stories on the Devendra Fadnavis government

Mumbai : ‘Jalyukta Shivar’ was intended to be the ‘game changer’ programme of the state government and several water experts like Dr. Rajendra Singh have lauded it openly.

Yet, several questions regarding the diligence, the hydrological discipline, the legalities and the long term viability of the project remain unanswered.

According to official data, the Jalyukta Shivar program aims at making available around 125 to 150 TMC of additional water for irrigating 25 lakh hectares of land at a cost Rs 10,000 crore in five years through around 4.5 to 5 lakh projects in over 25,000 villages.

A recent audit of around 1.20 lakh projects completed in the first phase during past nine months suggests that they have generated an additional 24.59 TMC of water, to help increase irrigation potential in 6,018 villages and irrigate around six lakh hectares of land. The report also says that a total expenditure of Rs 1,400 crore has been incurred on the 1.20 lakh works, that primarily include widening and deepening of rivers, compartment bunding, canals, farm ponds and revival of old water structures.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said that the project follows the motto, “minimum budget, maximum water.” The water conservation department says that to bring 6 lakh hectares under irrigation, a medium sized dam would have cost Rs 7,500 crore but, with the help of this project the same work has been done in merely Rs 1400 crore.

“This scheme is more of protective irrigation. The main goals are to store water, recharge groundwater levels and increase soil moisture,” says Prabhakar Deshmukh, principal secretary of water conservation department.

According to him, rejuvenation of old structures like compartment bunding and completing pending works was the priority. “Building new structures comes next”, he said, adding that if successfully implemented, the project would take care of the problem of drinking water in villages and make water available for crops during dry spells.

Deshmukh also highlights that out of the total work carried out under this program, works of around Rs. 300 crore have been completed through people’s participation.

However, questions over several aspects of the Jalyukta Shivar program have largely remained unanswered.

According to the official data, under the head of local sector minor irrigation schemes i.e. projects undertaken by zilla parishad (ZP) and water conservation department, over 70,000 projects (works) were completed in the past, generating irrigation capacity of over 16 lakh hectares. This comes out to around 200-250 projects per taluka.

These projects are left out of the ambit of Jalyukta Shivar program, at least for the time being, letting much of the public money go down the drain.

But, more severe is the concern over common hydrological norms being ignored. Water expert Pradeep Purandare says that he has visited a few projects under the program in Aurangabad region where a large stretch of river was widened and deepened using JCB machines, side slopes were cut straight, generating a danger of the side walls collapsing in the river bed.

Moreover, “the fact that there are a couple of bunds and a small dam downstream, was completely ignored. When questions were raised about the logic behind stopping water in a huge quantity uphill, they too were ignored,” says Purandare. He terms the figures of water being trapped and the land irrigated as pompous and insists that the government must come clean on the plan to use the trapped water, if it is to be used directly. Or else it should specify which are the wells that would be benefited, if there is no plan to use the water directly.

“Water conservation is a zero sum game. If you are stopping water at one place, it is bound to affect land downstream. In this project the problem is not solved but is just shifted,” Purandare says.

He also dubs the Jalyukta Shivar program as one “planned with an aim for quick results”.

“Though intentions are good and the overall picture appears nice, it has been a common experience that whenever works are undertaken on mass scale and are completed within a short time span, aspects like design, construction and planning are overlooked. There is hardly any control over the quality of work undertaken,” Purandare adds.

Purandare also refers to the provisions of Maharashtra Irrigation Act, 1976, wherein without notification, the water resources department doesn’t have right over the water in rivers or streams.

The act also restricts the amount of water to be trapped at a particular point.

“Considering the amount of water that is being trapped, it appears as if the water resources department was not taken into confidence while implementing the Jalyukt Shivar program or the department has chosen to keep mum over the issue,” Purandare said.

“The claims regarding the water trapped appear to have been inflated as they are using TMC as the unit,” Purandare says and  adds that the project works are not likely to be of much use in long term.

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