At a time when water cuts have become a norm for Pune, the irrigation department continues to release water for irrigation in the district without any request from farmers. In response to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by The Indian Express, the Khadakwasla division has replied that it has not received any application from farmers or water users’ associations(WUA) for release of water for irrigation from 2008 to 2013, though the canal committee continued to make provision for agricultural usage in the district during the time.
The responsibility of supplying water for drinking, agricultural and other purposes in Pune district lies largely with the Khadakwasla division of the irrigation department and is done through the New Mutha Right Bank Canal and the Chaskaman Canal. Twice a year, the canal committees meet to decide the allocation of water. Documents show that since 2008 the new Mutha Right Bank Canal Committee had met six times and the Chaskaman Canal Advisory Committee met thrice. These committees mostly constitute of MLAs, chairmen of sugar factories and officials from irrigation, agriculture and other departments. Other than the chairman of the Audambar Water Users’ Association in Daund, no other farmer or water users’ group found place in the committee.
As stated above, in response to the RTI query about the number of such requests received, the officer-in-charge said: “No request was received regarding water supply during the above time period.” Minutes of the meetings of the New Mutha Canal Advisory Committee, however, showed water was released for irrigation between 2008 and 2013. While 6.15 TMC was allocated in 2008-09, 10.37 TMC was allocated for 2009-10. Similarly, 11.76 TMC of water was allocated for irrigation in 2010-11, and 14.91 TMC in 2012-13. The committee decided to conserve water for drinking purposes in 2011-12, which was a dry year.
The minutes of the meetings of the committee noted that the issue of water supply to Pune city had come up time and again, with irrigation officials pointing out how the city was drawing more than the water allocated to it. Records show the committee had allowed 13.46 TMC for Pune city in 2008-09, 8.44 TMC in 2009-10, 9.56 TMC in 2011-12 and 9.6 TMC in 2013-14. During 2012-13, a drought year, the committee allowed water to be used for drinking purposes only. Minutes of the 2010-11 meetings show a water cut of 10 per cent was imposed on the city to cope up with the less rains that year, which seemed to have continued since then.
This was in sharp contrast to other irrigation divisions, which seemed to be getting regular requests from farmers and water users’ associations for supply of water. The Bhima irrigation sub-division in Kurkumbh, for example, had received 42,875 applications and the Bhima irrigation development region 1 (dealing with talukas of Mohal and North Solapur) received 1,345 applications.
Senior irrigation officers admitted to releasing water for irrigation without any request from farmers. “We do charge them later on. In other regions, the water users’ associations are formed and they send out applications,” said a senior officer. Irrigation officials said water had become a sensitive and political issue in Pune. However, the final call on water allocation is taken on the basis of the canal committee’s decision.
Alleging “lack of transparency” in the water distribution system, Parineeta Dandekar of advocacy group South Asia Network of Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP) said the composition of the canal committee was itself against the farmers. “Water management in this area is heavily tilted in favour of the rich farmers and sugar factories. More transparency is necessary in this region,” she said.
Activist Vivek Velankar said the formation of water users’ association should be made mandatory for every canal committee. “Proper distribution of water should be made through scientific studies rather than arbitrary decisions,” he said.