Against the backdrop of the acute drought in state,renowned water management expert Dr Madhav Chitale talks to Prasad Joshi on how the situation can be tackled.
The drought-like situation in Maharashtra is being compared to the 1972 famine by some observers. Also,there is criticism from the Opposition that the present water scarcity has arisen from mismanagement on the part of the government. What is your take on it?
It is a known fact that Maharashtra has witnessed rainfall deficit last monsoon. The overall water availability is much more critical at present considering the rise in human population and livestock as compared to the early 70s. There has been at least a 50 per cent increase in both,which is leading to greater strain on the present water situation. The extraction of groundwater today is more than double of what it was a few decades ago. This is simply due to advent of technology. When we consider the unregulated excess withdrawal of groundwater against the backdrop of the rainfall deficit,we can realise the grim water availability in Maharashtra. We can also observe a regional disparity in water availability in the state but it can be attributed to local geographical conditions,seen in context to the small and large dams in the respective areas. The regional North-South belt from Dhule to Sangli is a drought-prone area. This belt covers areas like Aurangabad,Beed,Ahmednagar and Solapur and faces drought-like conditions once in five years.
What measures should be taken to tackle the water scarcity?
Psychological change in people is necessary to deal with the situation. Judicious use of water should be the mantra. Local self-governing bodies have to focus on reuse of water. Farmers should not go for water-intensive crops. The current natural calamity is an opportunity for all of us to learn lessons on judicious use of water. By this,we can become better citizens. The issue of water should not halt economic progress of the state and the country. The government has undertaken watershed development projects and they have to be supported wholeheartedly by the local self-governing bodies and the civil society.
Does the current scenario have any connection with the global climate change and global warming?
International bodies like IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have been analyzing and thoroughly discussing climate change for more than two decades now. It has to be accepted as a global phenomenon and we have to accordingly adapt ourselves. The rising intensity and frequency of extreme weather conditions are surely the manifestation of climate change and global warming,although experts are still not able to establish any mathematical correlation with these global phenomena. These are emerging more like a fact,the impact of which is being experienced by us all. All we have to do is to learn to live with these changes and plan our policies afresh.
What are your observations about the present water usage by domestic,agricultural and industrial sectors
Methods like drip-irrigation are gaining ground in the agricultural sector,ensuring judicious use of water. These are becoming popular day by day. Industries too are ensuring proper use and release of water due to legal sanctions imposed on them. In my view,the domestic sector,especially the municipal communities,are lagging in judicious use of water,and therein lies a huge scope for improving efficiency. Municipalities of large cities such as Mumbai,Pune and Nagpur,to name a few,have to upgrade efficiency of water usage. Until that happens,these large cities will deprive others of their right to water. These larger cities have water leakage losses in the range of 30-40 per cent,which is a matter of grave concern.
Do you advocate metering system for water distribution
Absolutely. It can be the panacea for all issues related to water distribution. Metering should be an integral part of water distribution,similar to power distribution. We have to understand that water has to be a precious commodity,and we cannot ensure its judicious use or stop leakages unless a measuring system is introduced. Even if there is extraction of groundwater,the metering system should be applied.
How can the issue of unregulated extraction of groundwater be addressed?
A new regulation,the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act,2009,is awaiting formal implementation,despite the fact that it was passed by both the Houses of the State Legislature in 2011. The reasons for the delay could be many,but this regulation could be an effective tool to address the issue of unregulated extraction of groundwater. Presently what we observe is that the rich have more stake in groundwater,while the poor have to eventually rely on water-tankers provided by the government. Water is a collective resource and needs to be managed collectively and this is the basic spirit of the legislation we are talking about. It would surely bring in the much-needed social approach to the water sector,and ensure unchecked extraction of groundwater. We have to adopt a new term,water community. Water is an essential commodity for the whole society and an understanding has to be developed that it has to be collectively managed using methodological and systemic ways.
What is your message to the public for the World Water Day (March 22)?
Water Cooperation is the theme of this years World Water Day. This theme assumes great significance in the Indian context. Our society needs to understand that water cannot be handled individually,and cooperation is the need of the hour. Whether groundwater or any water body,incorrect action by any player or stakeholder fouls the entire stock of water,causing everybody to suffer. It is a good time to spread the message that water can be managed collectively in terms of quality and quantity through cooperation.
You head the special investigation team probing the allegations in the multi-crore irrigation scam. What is the current status of the probe?
I would not like to make any comment on the SIT job at this juncture. We are doing our work and our probe is expected to be over in six months.