Earlier Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis declared that 180 out of 353 talukas are drought-affected in the state due to irregular monsoon. The declaration came the day after a farmer and his wife committed suicide in the aftermath of the death of their two-year-old daughter in a village in Ahmednagar district. Devendra Fadnavis government spent crores of rupees on advertising Jalyukt Shivar, but that has not improved the water situation in the state. If you look at the comparison between average rainfall and the presence of water supply tankers in 2014 and the current year, fewer tankers were supplying water in 2014 despite there being lower rainfall, which proves that the scheme is a flop on the ground. The efficacy of the Jalyukt Shivar scheme for the past five years leaves many questions on its credibility.
The Government has spent Rs 7,500 crore in the past four years on this scheme alone. The state government has claimed that the scheme has changed the water story of Maharashtra for all time; but in reality, it has proven to be a jumla. The state government did not give details of the Jalyukt Shivar. It is not mentioning the locations of the wells and farm ponds that it claimed to have built in the past four years. It is getting exposed every day with regards to the Jalyukt Shivar scheme. The scheme was launched in December 2014 by CM Devendra Fadnavis-led state government with an objective to harvest rainwater and enhance groundwater levels. However, the project has run into stormy weather for its haphazard and unscientific implementation, undue reliance on machinery, lack of transparency and public participation. While the government has taken credit for providing a small scale irrigation facility at the farmers’ doorstep, it is reluctant to take the responsibility for their unsustainable use. Majority of the scheme work has been implemented unscientifically. While one can see water as of now, it does not mean groundwater recharge has taken place.
Besides borewells, Pravara River (a tributary of Godavari River) is a major water source to the Hiwargaon village. Almost 80 per cent of its ponds is dependent on groundwater, with most of them dug between 2012 and 2015 with the help of subsidies offered under the National Horticulture Mission (NHM).
The 300-odd ponds in the village are the main source of sustenance for the pomegranate-dependent agro-economy. The arrival of ponds has led many farmers to shift to horticulture, with pomegranate cash-crop rapidly supplanting the traditional horse gram, bajra, wheat, pulses, and onion crops.
Most farmers in the village, as in western Maharashtra’s horticultural belt, swear by the farm ponds, unmindful, however, of the consequences of groundwater depletion owing to their unregulated construction and digging.
The SANDRP study revealed that none of the farm ponds in Hiwargaon had inlets and outlets or any other arrangement for excess rainwater inflow that was envisioned in the scheme. Instead of digging the ponds in a low-lying area, many of them are dug on the highest points of the farms. The soil conservation is the key to groundwater recharge, but it has been omitted in the scheme. Any programme claiming to deal with recharging groundwater has to pay attention to the soil. If soil is conserved, groundwater is automatically recharged. In the Jalyukt Shivar works, soil, fine sand and the entire medium that hold the water and percolate it have been scrapped. If the rocks are exposed, then how is the recharge supposed to take place? The works under the scheme appeared to hold water, but would not recharge it. Another problem with the farm ponds is that they expose the groundwater to losses through evaporation, something that may not become immediately apparent.
According to data, around 13,950 ponds were dug between 2014 and 2016 under the NHM, the JSY and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, while nearly 24,700 more were under construction under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in 2016-17. Till date staggering 1.6 lakh odd applications have been received by local authorities under the ‘Magel Tyala Shettale (Farm Pond on Demand scheme)’ ever since Fadnavis launched it in February 2016 but the Jalyukt Shivar programme and its ancillaries are a quick fix that has failed. The government has not taken into account the massive amount of work that goes into involving people in carrying out watershed works. While local authorities said that they are aware of the concerns engendered by the indiscriminate digging of farm ponds, they find regulation impossible.
In 2017, the state received 74.3 per cent of rainfall. However, until November 17, 2018, 715 tankers in total were supplying water to various regions. In 2014, the state received 70.2 per cent rain, which is lesser than 2017, but only 71 tankers were supplying water at the time in 2015; the state had received just 59.4 per cent of rainfall. This was much lower than in 2018. Even then, only 693 tankers were supplying water. So, these numbers reveal us that the so-called claims of Jalyukt Shivar are fake and fabricated. The proportion of small farmers (owning less than 5 acres) increased from 70 per cent to 79 per cent over the period 1995 to 2011.
So, while the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan intends to make Maharashtra drought-free by 2019, it appears to have worked mainly for prosperous farmers. As the first part of this series showed, a piecemeal approach of random work that ignores the geological water cycle of an area–a watershed–and spreads itself thin as the drought’s ravages spread is not helping millions of smaller farms.
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