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Maharashtra: Govt mum on irrigation, the weakest link in agriculture

The Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2018-19, which was tabled in the legislature on Monday

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Maharashtra: Govt mum on irrigation, the weakest link in agriculture
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Poor irrigation is one of the weakest links in the state's water-stressed agriculture sector. However, for around seven years, the state economic survey has remained mum on the percentage of the gross irrigated area in Maharashtra.

The Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2018-19, which was tabled in the legislature on Monday, has not published figures of the net area sown, gross irrigated area, gross cropped area, and the percentage of gross irrigated area to gross cropped area. The survey, however, says instructions have been given in 2016 by the water resources department regarding the procedure to collect data.

In 2012, the economic survey had said that irrigation in Maharashtra had risen by just 0.1% to 17.9% between 2001 and 2010 despite Rs 70,000 crore being spent on the sector in a decade. This had led then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to assure a white paper on the issue, leading to a confrontation with the NCP and then deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.

After allegations of alleged corruption in irrigation projects and undue benefits being granted to contractors had surfaced, Pawar had resigned in September 2012 only to be sworn again two months later. Pawar was the irrigation minister from 1999 to 2010.

Later, the state government's white paper on irrigation projects debunked the 0.1% growth claim and said the figure stood at a much higher 5.17%. The government also set up a special investigation team (SIT) underwater sector expert Madhav Chitale to probe alleged irregularities in the construction of irrigation projects and its report was tabled in the legislature in June 2014.

The BJP and Shiv Sena, which were then in the opposition, had accused the NCP of irregularities in irrigation projects.

"Some committees were created in six years, the figure (regarding the irrigated area) will be given once they submit their reports," said finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. Sources in the finance and planning departments said incongruence between the figures of various government departments were responsible for the state not coming forth with a firm figure.

According to the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), of the five river basin systems, only 55% of the dependable yield is available in the four river basins (Krishna, Godavari, Tapi and Narmada) east of the Western Ghats. These four basins comprise 92% of the cultivable land and over 60% of the rural population.

An approximate 49% of the area of these four river basins consisting of 43% of the population is already considered as a deficit or highly deficit regarding water availability. The size of these deficit areas is likely to increase steadily with increasing population and economic growth in the years to come. The remaining 45% water flow is from the westward flowing rivers, which originate in the Western Ghats, are monsoon specific and drain into the Arabian Sea.

Growth Slump

  • 0.1% rise in irrigation between 2001 and 2010 despite Rs 70,000 crore being spent 
  • 49% of area of four river basins consisting of 43%  population is water deficit
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