There is a crisis looming in this state as water levels plummet and agriculture suffers due to neglect and mismanagement
By Ritu Goyal Harish in Pune
Should industrial development be at the cost of environment? This age-old debate is especially relevant in Maharashtra, one of the most industrialized states and home to India’s financial capital. What has made it worse are the lopsided policies of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), which have made the already acute water crisis in the state worse.
MIDC is the largest hub for industries in Maharashtra and provides fully developed industrial plots, with all necessary infrastructure, including roads, electricity and water. It has about 233 industrial complexes across Maha-rashtra and the total area covered by MIDC is about 1,30,000 acres.
However, this mammoth industrial segment is turning out to be one of the largest consumers of water in the state. Approximately 2,240 million liters of water (approximately 8,17,600 liters per annum) is provided to industries every day by MIDC, which, in turn, gets water from the Water Resources Department of Maharashtra. This department sources 65 percent of water from irrigation dams. MIDC itself sources 34 percent water supply from its own dams. But in a decision that smacks of selfishness and which has come in for heavy criticism, MIDC doesn’t allow digging of borewells and is vague about recharging of underground water tables through rainwater harvesting (RWH), thereby harming the environment. This is being done so that it can continue to get revenue from these industries.
But this is being penny wise and pound foolish. RWH raises groundwater tables and using the harvested water will ensure that MIDC is less dependent on water from dams, which can then be diverted for agriculture. In a state known for water shortage, the right policy decisions will make all the difference.
In 2013 and 2014, a looming water crisis in Maharashtra became a talking point in the media, thanks to the callous and thoughtless comments of then minister for irrigation and deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar. In 2013, in Indapur, Pune, he ridiculed a farmer who was on hunger strike (he was demanding water for his field) by saying: “But where are we going to get water from? Should we urinate? When we are not getting water to drink, even urine is not coming easily.”
In 2014, 22 districts in the state faced a drought-like situation due to delayed rains and helpless farmers began committing suicide. The monsoon finally arrived, but it too was late. By then, the damage had already been done.
Part of the problem is water mismanagement. In 2013, the then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan admitted that despite spending a whopping `70,000 crore over a decade, only .1 percent of the state’s irrigation potential had been achieved. Inequitable supply of water and rising demands from industries (that are supplied water from dams) and urban centers have meant that agriculture has suffered the most.
Sadly, MIDC’s one-sided policy on water and its lack of vision have made matters worse. MIDC has a strict water policy that doesn’t allow industrial units to use their own sources of water. This policy is rational to some extent as it restricts industries from tapping and using underground water resou-rces indiscriminately. But this policy is also causing imbalance in water management as well as causing loss of revenue for industries during summer.
In the harsh and prolonged summer of 2013 and 2014, industries faced severe shortage of water and several requests were made to MIDC to allow them to bore wells to supplement water. An official of an Indo-Japanese water intensive venture in Pune told India Legal that they had spent nearly Rs. 2 lakh daily, buying water from tankers.
A circular by MIDC, dated February 22, 2013, cited a previous circular dated June 10, 1992, that allowed industries to dig just one borewell per unit during times of scar-city. It said this permission was to be granted to water-scarce areas and the borewell was to be plugged as soon as water supply by MIDC was restored. However, smaller industries didn’t see the point of spending on borewells when it would be plugged soon after. Many chose to simply buy water from tankers supplied by MIDC.
“MIDC is indiscriminately withdrawing water from our dams for industrial use and
harming the environment by not allowing industries to recharge groundwater.”
—Col (retd) Shashikant Dalvi, a rainwater harvesting expert
According to Col (retd) Shashikant Dalvi, a Pune-based RWH expert, this shortsighted policy of MIDC had added to the water crisis. Dalvi, who has visited several industrial units in Pune, was keen on installing RWH systems. He says: “What the MIDC is doing, borders on criminal offense. They’re indiscriminately withdrawing water from our dams for industrial use and harming the environment by not allowing industries to recharge groundwater.”
Mumbai students take part in a prayer rally for rain in June this year; a borewell recharge in Hingani village of Amravati district of Maharashtra
Research by Pune-based Prayas, an NGO, showed that 88 percent water from Hetwane dam in Raigad district was re-routed to industries, while from Amba and Pavna dams, 81 percent water was diverted. Prayas said this water diversion was done “without consultations with the affected people and as mandated under the Maharashtra Water Regulatory Authority Act of 2005.”
Strangely, while MIDC permits the installation of RWH systems on industrial structures, it does not permit the harvested water to be used. Companies are naturally not interested in investing in RWH systems. On condition of anonymity, a unit owner said: “Why should I install a system that doesn’t benefit me? I will have to buy water from MIDC anyway.”
Scrutiny of documents available on MIDC’s official website raises a few questions:
- Why is MIDC adamant on its policy of water monopoly?
- Why can’t RWH be made compulsory?
- Why is MIDC averse to adopting and implementing a technology that will ensure that water withdrawal from RWH systems by industrial units is regulated?
- What is MIDC’s future water policy? Does it intend to continue relying on dams as the only source of water? Despite repeated telephone calls and emails to MIDC CEO Bhushan Gagrani and chief engineer of Pune, they did not revert.
Strangely, the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries & Agriculture, the apex body that represents the industrial sector of the state, has also been silent about the lop-sided policy of MIDC.
A young girl carries water from a tanker in Ashti Taluka of Beed district of Maharashtra
Dalvi, in fact, has worked out the arithmetic to see how much water will be saved through RWH systems. “The average annual rainfall across Maharashtra is 1,300 millimeter. Taking this into consideration, RWH potential per acre is roughly 4.4 million liters. Therefore, in 1,30,000 acres (area of MIDC units) the benefits will be enormous,” he says. He has successfully installed RWH units in commercial and residential sectors, including schools, colleges and hospitals, in drou-ght-prone areas of the state such as Buldhana, Jalna, etc.
Take Hinjewadi IT Park Phase 1 & 2 in Pune, which is spread across 440 acres. “If RWH is adopted by industries in this region alone, it can result in 1,100 million liters of rainwater being saved. This potential, if used judiciously, will make large amounts of water available for agriculture and domestic usage. At the same time, implementing RWH sche-mes in such large areas will help improve groundwater levels. It will also help reduce the carbon footprint,” says Dalvi.
This will have larger spin-offs. Reduced water costs means increased profits for industries. This can be used for improving the quality of products and more employment. “Water that is not consumed by industrial units can be diverted for public supply, thereby increasing water availability for agriculture. Improved groundwater levels will help everyone who lives around the area,” adds Dalvi.
It is time that the Maharashtra government and MIDC take a serious look at their water policy and allow industries to use RWH with strict regulations. After all, everyone will benefit from it.