Good economics meets good politics In Maharashtra

Interesting article by Aashish Chandrokar.

He talks about this Jalyukta Gaon Abhiyan scheme in Maharashtra:

In 2012-13, Maharashtra state faced a severe drought-like situation with water tables falling by as much as three meters in several blocks. Prabhakar Deshmukh, the then Pune Municipal Commissioner, conceptualized a Jalyukta Gaon Abhiyan in five districts of Pune division: Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Solapur.

The programme which was to be funded via Integrated Watershed Management Programme of 2008 and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme Fund, besides state and local district level sources, was expected to benefit around 1000 villages at a cost of approximately ₹1327 crores. The work was kicked off in right earnest. However, the then Congress – NCP state government had also decided to invest in large irrigation projects, – where over a period of time ₹70,000 crores were allocated – and this successful yet localized programme was neither scaled up nor replicated.

This humongous public investment was a source of much politicking through the October 2014 assembly election campaign, with allegations of corruption and fund diversions. When Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis took over the reins of the new BJP – Shiv Sena state government, he could not have relied on the large irrigation programmes to solve Maharashtra’s recurring and acute water scarcity. Among the first things the Fadnavis government did, alongside initiating irrigation scam enquiries, was to adopt the Deshmukh experiment from Pune wholeheartedly and launch Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan (literally water filled land / fields programme) in December 2014.

When Fadnavis took over as the CM, Maharashtra was already reeling under the effects of a deficient 2014 monsoon – 24,000 out of nearly 50,000 villages in the state had scarce water supply available. Large parts of the state lie in the semi-arid areas but, even then, more than 80% of the cultivable area in the state depends solely on monsoon rains for farming. Most parts of Vidarbha and Marathwada face uncertain and ill-timed rain spells each year. This affects not only the source of livelihood for the agriculture-dependent population, but also results in brutal social stress, leading to farmer suicides and resultant collapse of local economic structures.

Hmm.. What does the scheme do? It is decentralised approach to solving water problems in Maharashtra:

Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan was launched with an aim to make Maharashtra water scarcity-free in the next five years. The programme will focus on restoration, repair, rejuvenation and construction of local water bodies in rural areas. These water bodies, where possible, will also be linked to nearby rivers, allowing a  continuous, uninterrupted flow of water for local irrigation requirements, reducing the dependencies on individual investments which farmers usually make to tend to their fields.

The programme will focus on connecting local water streams to larger water bodies, creating percolation tanks and bunds and de-silting existing rural water bodies, including use of cement lining to ensure permanent water retention and storage. Several works also focus on rejuvenating the now-silted or encroached water bodies constructed after the 1972 drought. Additionally, the government is also encouraging construction of Kolhapur Type weirs – barriers, which originated in Kolhapur a century back and are known to retain water in small areas effectively for community use.

Deshmukh, who is now the secretary with the rural development and water ministries, is at the helm of designing and implementing the programme. Alongside the Chief Minister, the ministers championing the programme are rural development and water conservation minister Pankaja Munde and water resources minister Girish Mahajan. Incidentally, their respective districts Nagpur, Beed and Jalgaon / Buldhana – have all suffered over the years from water scarcity.

The state government has allocated ₹5,000 crore for the programme, though in the first year, the grants are capped at ₹1,000 crore, given the budgetary challenges the government faces. By March 2016, the government aims to make 5,000 villages drought free. These are the villages most impacted by vagaries of Indian monsoon.

In its current form, the programme has been equipped with an effective oversight, control and monitoring mechanism, right from the individual unit of work being executed to the Chief Minister’s Office. All works are planned at a village level, with approval and agreement from Gram Sabha, thus targeting highly customized local solutions without the burden of top-down approach. The funding for the works is channeled solely via allocation made for the programme, thus eliminating the duplication of central and state funds on rural development and water conservation.

District collectors in all districts have been appointed as nodal officers and have been given specific instructions to report on the progress regularly over the Internet portals each district maintains on the National Informatics Center (NIC) infrastructure. This tracking is publicly visible and increases accountability. As an example, the details of works in the Jalna district of Aurangabad division can be accessed here:  (link opens a PDF document in Marathi language). The CM office then monitors the progress of the works directly – in fact since the launch of the programme, Fadnavis himself has toured almost all districts where the works have commenced.

Hmmm..

Early days. Hope the scheme succeeds.

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