Championing wise and participatory water management in Maharashtra

3 Oct 2017 - 12:15

By Vikas Prakash Joshi - Communications officer at Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR)

Prof Pradeep Purandare, an engineer and retired professor from India’s prestigious Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), has spent over 30 years searching for and promoting solutions to different challenges, ranging from practice to policy in the water, agriculture and climate change sectors in Aurangabad, in the dry, semi-arid Marathwada region of Maharashtra.

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“Prof Purandare is a very important connection between different stakeholders and WOTR,” says Eshwer Kale, researcher at WOTR. “He has highlighted crucial updates on contemporary issues in the water sector in Maharashtra and often shared his rich thoughts and ideas with us on relevant issues. Although by profession Prof Purandare was active in teaching, his contribution in research, training and, most importantly, water policy dialogue and advocacy is invaluable. In his recently published book in Marathi, Panya Shappath, which translates as ‘The Water Oath’, Prof Purandare highlights major updates on contemporary issues in the water sector in Maharashtra.”

Prof Purandare was first drawn to the work of WOTR through reports of their work in the media, as well as his own interest in the watershed development sector.

“I have had two very personal experiences with WOTR in the recent past,” he says. “WOTR is the knowledge partner for Paani Foundation, a massive campaign launched by film celebrities with support of corporates to conserve water in villages. I am also involved in WOTR’s work in Jalna district where WOTR has initiated the process of TSP (Transformative Scenario Planning) to understand the current water issues in a better manner and think of what the future situation could be in the district regarding water and how we should be prepared for that. I especially liked the ‘open debate’ which WOTR encourages at different levels on various issues.”

Focus on green technology

According to Prof Purandare, one of the best ways to deal with the increasingly significant challenges of climate change, especially on agriculture, is to focus on green technology and climate adaptation, as well as research on climate-resistant seeds and crops.  “Water management structures have to be bolstered, as well as long-term planning for extreme events, which are becoming more common.”

Maharashtra and several other states have passed groundwater management laws, such as the Groundwater Management Act. While he believes that the laws and rules are satisfactory, Purandare says there are problems with their implementation: “Those who have to implement the regulations have to be made aware of them and their operational provisions. This includes the block development officers, the district collectors and the relevant government agencies. For example, there are clauses against illegal sand mining from rivers in the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act, 2009, but these remain on paper only.”

The future of water management

Watershed development has been a core focus of WOTR’s work for almost 25 years in a number of semi-arid regions of India but, according to Purandare, watershed development has a limited shelf life and people do not realise that it is a process, not just one event. “After the watershed work is over, there are other necessary supporting activities but they are often not done. Water-efficient techniques of crop cultivation and irrigation have to be promoted to make watershed development interventions truly effective.”

In terms of the future of water management in Maharashtra and India, Prof Purandare says it is very important that the National Water Framework Law (which is currently in the drafting phase and provisions for state-wise usage/water sharing) is adopted by all states. “Structural changes in water usage are also required, while the Central Ground Water Board and Central Water Commission need to be restructured so that the voices of NGOs and other stakeholders are also taken into account.”

As far as Maharashtra is concerned, Purandare says they have called for changing the Irrigation Development Corporations to River Basin Agencies. “This is a more broad-based concept and includes all stakeholders. If we want to tackle climate change, we need to change the very structure of governance. The existing governance structure is not responsive to our problems.”

According to Purandare, the era of supply-side management of water is over and it is time to focus on demand-side water management: “Recently, the State Level Expert Committee on Integrated State Water Plan has prepared the Godavari river basin plan, where I am also one of the members of the committee. In the plan, we have made it clear that demand-side management is the need of the future. We included in this leak-proof pipelines, water-efficient agriculture, and flushes and cooking techniques that minimise water usage.”