Groundwater levels have plummeted in Maharashtra this year. According to the latest study conducted by the state’s Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA), nearly 71 per cent of the state shows a drop of more than a meter in groundwater level in September, compared to a five-year average.
Setting off alarm bells for the Devendra Fadnavis government, the GSDA study has forecast that 11,487 villages in 167 tehsils will face water scarcity in 2018-19. In other words, 47 per cent of Maharashtra (state has 353 tehsils) will have water crisis.
Of the 11,487 villages, the study has found that groundwater levels have depleted by over 3 meters in 2,941 villages (114 tehsils). According to the agency, these regions will face water scarcity from October itself, raising immediate concerns for the government, while the other vulnerable areas will feel the heat from January.
While Maharashtra has witnessed deficient rainfall in 2018-19 and 38 per cent area of the state recorded an over 30 per cent deficit, compared to the normal average, GSDA officials have blamed lack of proper water management, uncontrolled extraction of water, water wastage through flow irrigation and damage to groundwater acquifers as the main reasons for the sharp decline.
Ironically, replenishment of groundwater levels has been identified as one of the objectives of the state government’s flagship Jalyukt Shivar scheme. The government has claimed that 5.42 lakh water conservation and drought proofing works have been undertaken in over 16,000 villages, totalling Rs 7,789 crore over the past three years. But following the recent GSDA report, politics over the issue has intensified.
Both Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the Opposition have questioned the implementation of Jalyukt Shivar, with the Congress on Friday seeking a judicial probe in all work contracts that have been awarded so far.
Congress leader Sachin Sawant said: “The monsoon had been more deficient in 2014 and 2015, compared to this year. Yet, the decline in groundwater levels has been the sharpest this year. It raises questions over the Jalyukt Shivar work.” Indicating that the Congress plans to target the scheme in future as well, the Congress has now termed the scheme’s implementation a sham. Earlier on Thursday, NCP’s Ajit Pawar had also targetted the Fadnavis government over the project.
But the government has rebutted the claims. Maharashtra’s water conservation minister Ram Shinde has attributed the measures taken under Jalyukt Shivar for the “rise in water levels in 101 tehsils”. While admitting to the concerning drop in groundwater levels this year, Shinde has argued that the state has seen a deficient monsoon this time, which usually results in “more extraction of water”. Rainfall was over 30 per cent deficient in 136 tehsils this monsoon, data shows.
According to GSDA findings, groundwater depletion has been the highest in the drought-prone Marathwada and Vidharbha belts. It found that 58 tehsils (4,385 villages) in Marathwada saw more than a metre drop in groundwater levels making it the worst-hit region.
In the Vidharbha belt, the survey has found that 42 tehsils (2,554 villages) are in the same red zone. In all, the survey – in which groundwater level in observation wells across Maharashtra were studied – has reported a drop of over one meter in 13,984 villages across 252 tehsils. In comparison, the groundwater levels were found to have risen in 12,911 villages in the state.
According to the GSDA study, the groundwater levels have fallen by more than 3 metres in 2,941 villages (114 tehsils). It has dropped by 2-3 metres in 2,990 villages (143 tehsils), and by 1-2 metres in 5,556 villages (167 tehsils).
While the state has formulated rules imposing restrictions on groundwater extraction in vulnerable areas, officials admitted that it hasn’t been implemented effectively. While Maharashtra had planned to switch water-exhaustive sugarcane crop to drip irrigation, this, too, hasn’t been implemented.