AFTER suspending decisions for allocation of dam waters for non-irrigation use for over two years due to severe drought conditions, Maharashtra has now revived the contentious process.
The state Cabinet Monday approved proposals for allocating 13.5 million litres of water from three dams — Kadwa, Darna and Gautami Godavari — for domestic use. This is the first time since June 18, 2014, when the previous Congress-NCP alliance was still in power, that a decision for allocation of dam waters for non-irrigation purposes has been taken.
The Cabinet approved reservation of about 3.6 million litres (0.03613 million cubic metres) from the Kadwa dam in Igatpuri for serving the domestic water requirements of a proposed international school — Priyadarshini International School — that is coming up in the region.
From the Darna dam, which also falls in Igatpuri, another 1.75 million litres (0.0175 million cubic metres) was earmarked for similar needs of another educational trust, SMBT Sevabhavi Educational Trust, while 8.137 million litres (0.08137 million cubic metres) from Gautami Godavari near Nashik was allocated to the Shree Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan-run religious facility in Nashik, which had earlier been allocated the same quota of water from the dam temporarily (for a 40-day period) during the Kumbh festival.
Even as the Water Resources Department justified the decision to permanently allocate water to the Sansthan citing an increase in the number of devotees visiting the place, records show the Finance Department had said such an allocation would be unjustified. The “diversion” would result in reduction of the state’s irrigation potential by about 20 hectares, said sources, while arguing that irrigation rehabilitation charges would be collected from the beneficiaries.
During the previous government, there were allegations that large-scale dam water meant for irrigation was diverted for industries and domestic use. NCP leader and then Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar was caught in a controversy with a Pune-based NGO Prayas claiming that between 2003 and 2011, Pawar, as water resources minister and later finance minister, chaired a high-powered committee that permitted “diversion of almost 2,000 million cubic metres of water meant for irrigation for non-irrigation purposes from 51 dams in the state. Following these allegations, then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had disbanded the committee, saying that all proposals for water allocation must be placed before the Cabinet. But with this causing friction between the Congress and the NCP and drought conditions prevailing in the state, the previous government had avoided taking any further decisions for allocation of water to industries.
Official records suggest that a total of 226 proposals for reservation of dam waters for non-irrigation purposes were cleared during the previous reign.
Ironically, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had earlier approved a draft proposal meant to divest the Cabinet’s powers to decide on allocations of water from a dam. The draft proposal, which limits the Cabinet’s role to sectoral allocation and delegates powers for allocating water to individual project proponents to chief engineers overseeing the five statutory irrigation development corporations, has since been put on the back-burner.
Both the Darna and Gautami Godavari dams, along with other dams along the Godavari river basin, which supplies water to North Maharashtra and Marathwada, have been identified as water-stressed reservoirs.