While the monsoon has played its part in worsening the woes of Maharashtra’s farmers, the state’s agrarian crisis has been compounded by the mess in its irrigation sector caused by mismanagement of water resources, unscientific measurement methods, and rank inefficiency.

The water resources department has failed to achieve the declared target of use of irrigation potential for agriculture. In fact, large quantities of water are being diverted from irrigation projects, leaving farmers in the lurch.

Unauthorised use of water has become the norm at many projects, DNA found. “Politicians encourage this,” said Rajan Kshirsagar, a political activist from Parbhani. “This serves them politically as it is known in Maharashtra that those who control water also control power.”

Moreover, the annual water audit reports are practically useless. DNA has a copy of a letter dated August 16, 2011, sent by Pradeep Purandare, professor and head of engineering at the Water And Land Management Institute (Walmi), to the secretary of the water resources department. In the letter, Prof Purandare has detailed the sorry state of the audit and demanded its withdrawal. Walmi is an autonomous body under the department.

For starters, the figures for potential created by all irrigation projects are not updated. The potential is measured when work on a project begins, but then it is not checked or updated annually as it should be.

Purandare’s letter said, “The reported figures of potential created are far from reality. Any comparison of actual irrigated area with those figures is bound to be misleading…. The credibility of the whole exercise/report is highly questionable.”

The water resources department had issued instructions some years ago to revise irrigation potential data. Many irrigation divisions carried out the exercise and submitted reports, but they were never approved.

DNA also learnt that the preliminary irrigation programme (PIP) meant for season-wise planning of irrigation was not prepared for a majority of the projects. “Who knows how much water is available if potential is not measured?” said a professor from Walmi, who did not want to be identified. “Moreover, without the PIP, how can one plan how this water is to be used?”

A study group was constituted by the Maharashtra Water Resources Development Centre (MWRDC) in July 2005 to prepare a manual on water audit. The manual was prepared and submitted to the water resources department a year later, but has still not been approved. “The manual would have given a scientific basis to the management system,” said a member of the study group, “ensuring better compliance”.

Following state-wide inspections carried out by water audit units, the MWRDC had submitted a report to the department in 2006. DNA has a copy of the report in which the chief engineer, MWRDC, describes the terrible state of water management in Maharashtra.

“There is mismanagement and various lacunae while implementing irrigation projects,” said the report (see box). The water resources department has thus far ignored the report.

The report further said, “It is experienced in the last two years that various instructions/guidelines given in government circulars pertaining to water audit are seldom followed in practice. As a result, irrigation performance is not satisfactory in a majority of the projects.”

Further, water use data is incorrect because it is not actually measured. Rampant use of unrevised capacity tables adds to the confusion. “The virtual absence of functional water measuring devices in case of flow irrigation and water meters in case of lift irrigation and non-irrigation are the main bottleneck,” Purandare’s letter said.

Shockingly, “unauthorised water use for both irrigation and non-irrigation” has not been reported by the audit. “Does it mean there was no unauthorised use? Were there no ‘panchnamas’ and no penal charges? Why deny theft of water when it is so rampant and visible?” said the activist Kshirsagar.

ME Sheikh, chief engineer in the irrigation department (water management), admitted that resources had been mismanaged but excused himself, saying, “I have joined this department four months ago, so I will need to get more details.”

The chief engineer of the MWRDC submitted a report to the water resources secretary in 2006, which has thus far been ignored by the government.
1) PIP not prepared on time and duly approved by the competent authority

2) Canal advisory committee meetings do not take place sufficiently before the beginning of the irrigation season

3) No notification is published with details (like number of planned rotations, their dates and periods, and crops to be taken) before the season

4) Irrigation scheduling is not done on the basis of compiled water demand and water distribution programmes

5) Statistics regarding section-wise/subdivision-wise water used and area irrigated is not submitted after every rotation. Hence, monitoring/review is not done during and after every rotation by the executive engineer/superintending engineer. This leads to excess use of water, affecting irrigation efficiency

6) In many irrigation projects there is hardly any measurement of area irrigated. If at all measurement is carried out, senior field officers don’t exercise any check on such measurement. That leads to discrepancy between actual area irrigated and its recorded measurement. Area recorded is always less than the actual

7) The water resources department has prescribed season-wise dates for finalisation of assessment of water charges. But in many projects, assessment papers are not prepared on time and water bills are not issued to irrigators. That affects recovery of water charges. As a result, appropriate performance evaluation does not take place.

8) To arrive at figures of crop-yield per hectare, crop-cutting experiments are supposed to be carried out in the command areas. But in the absence of such experiments objective performance evaluation of irrigation projects is not done.