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Explained: Why a mission to make Maharashtra villages drought-free has been shelved

Launched in December 2014 after Maharashtra experienced consecutive droughts, Jalyukta Shivar aimed at rolling out measures that could potentially mitigate water scarcity in the most drought-prone villages in a systematic manner.

Minister for Water Resources, Jayant Patil, cited ‘substandard’ work carried out under Jalyukta Shivar, the flagship water conservation project launched by previous Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government. Five years hence, the project has been officially scrapped by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

What does this mean for the efforts of water conservation and will the state tackle its water woes?

What is Jalyukta Shivar?

Launched in December 2014 after Maharashtra experienced consecutive droughts, the project aimed at rolling out measures that could potentially mitigate water scarcity in the most drought-prone villages in a systematic manner. Nearly 52 per cent of the state’s geographical area is prone to drought, either naturally or due to poor rainfall. This includes Marathwada and adjoining areas of Madhya Maharashtra and large parts of Vidarbha. The project targeted strengthening and streamlining existing water resources like canals, bunds and ponds by arresting maximum run-off rainwater during monsoon. Tasks to widen and deepen natural water streams and connect them to nearby water storage facilities like earthern or concrete check-dams was proposed. In the first phase, planned during 2015 – 2019, Jalyukta Shivar envisaged to make 5,000 villages drought-free, every year. During its proposed tenure, the government eyed at making 25,000 drought-prone villages water-sufficient.

Was Jalyukta Shivar beneficial?

While the exact number of villages that were declared drought-free remains unknown, the programme attempted to bring water stress down in a majority of the most water scarce villages in the state. In January last year, then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had announced that the scheme had transformed 16,000 drought-prone villages of Maharashtra. He also said the irrigation cover had been increased by 34 lakh hectares. In the process, thereby, increasing the crop yield each year, particularly the kharif crops. Until mid-2019, interventions resulted in stocking of water measuring 24 lakh trillion cubic metre.

Why was the scheme scrapped?

During its five-year tenure, which ended in October last year, one of the main corruption charges levied against the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra was against the Jalyukta Shivar project. The CM had announced completion of 10,094 tasks in January last year. But in March, charges of discrepancies were levelled against 1,300 tasks carried out under the Jalyukta Shivar scheme, which Fadnavis later accepted. This had become the main weapon for the opposition parties to up the ante, which ended in seeking an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

The NCP and Congress had alleged that work to the tune of Rs 200 crore was carried out inappropriately. Jayant Patil, too, reiterated that, along with improper fund allocation during the final leg of the scheme, substandard quality of work was carried out during the last three years. Soon after the Maha Vikas Aghadi came to power towards the end of 2019, steps to wind up the project were initiated. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray himself ceased the funds for the project in January.

What is the future of water conservation in the state?

Geologists and hydrologists, who worked on implementing the project, shared similar views and hailed Jalyukta Shivar. This was mainly due to the interventions undertaken in the existing water reserves, planned de-silting activities, among many others. However, experts agreed that the scheme was not appropriately implemented. Now with Jalyukta Shivar no longer in existence, focused efforts of the past five years, in most likelihood, will go down the drain unless a similar scheme is introduced. With rainfall variations getting more pronounced, in addition to depleting groundwater reserves, the state will need concrete interventions to tackle future water requirements, experts recommended.

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