ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Scarcity of Good Governance

It is water management, not water scarcity that is the real problem.

Even if all cricket pitches in the country remain unwatered for the next month, nothing would change for the millions of people who struggle each day for a drop of water. The Bombay High Court’s judgment on 13 April, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL), ordering Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches to shift out of drought-stricken Maharashtra from next month might be good for optics but does precious little to address the root of the problem of water scarcity. The crisis that Maharashtra and nine other states in the country are facing is not just scarcity of water but also an acute scarcity of good governance. The water crisis is not just the result of two consecutive failed monsoons, it is a direct outcome of the inability of the governments over decades to manage sensibly, sensitively and sustainably India’s water resources. Typically, when water becomes scarce, the discussion swings between two binaries—emergency water supply and checking wasteful use. Thus, trains with water are rushed to Latur and the court orders a stop to “wasteful” use of water for cricket pitches. But once the rains come, and this time a “good” monsoon is predicted, it will be business as usual.

Maharashtra has 1,845 dams, more than any other state in India, and yet only around 18% of its farmland is irrigated. The recent “dam scam” exposed the extent to which public funds have been used to build dams without yielding irrigation benefits. Of the 70,000 minor irrigation projects in the state, only 12% are working today. Politics, specifically the power of the so-called “sugar lobby,” rather than prudence, has dictated the allocation of surface water for irrigation. Cutting across party lines, no state government will contemplate placing any limits on water-intensive sugar cane cultivation, even in water-scarce regions like Marathwada, or on sugar factories that need thousands of litres of water everyday. In fact, 80 of the state’s 205 sugar factories are located in Marathwada and despite the failure of the monsoon in the last two seasons, the area under sugar cane cultivation has increased. Also, while there is no check on such unsustainable use of water for agriculture, the Madhav Chitale Committee report on irrigation revealed a massive diversion of public funds in the name of providing irrigation. Despite an expenditure of ₹70,000 crore, the increase in irrigated area over a decade was a mere 0.1%. Clearly, the promise of water is a lucrative business.

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