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Water conflicts on the rise in Maharashtra, say experts

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Mumbai | Issues of unequal distribution, lack of planning, political interference and growing demand for water were giving rise to disputes among the different regions of Maharashtra, according to experts on the subject. Maharashtra received inadequate rainfall this monsoon and the government recently declared drought in 151 out of the 353 talukas in the state.

Citing lack of a state-level policy for water distribution and storage, Sanjay Lakhe Patil, president of the Marathwada Backlog Removal and Development Forum, blamed politicians. “They have always invested heavily in their own areas.

Maximum dams have been constructed per hectare area, resulting in water imbalance and conflictsbetween different regions, talukas and districts,” he said. “Our water policy has always remained flawed. Needs of the region were never considered while sanctioningirrigation projects. Political leaders only thought about regions of their influence,” Lakhe Patil claimed.

Giving an example, Lakhe Patil said the huge expenditure on Krishna Valley irrigation projects resulted in water disparity in western Maharashtra.

While Baramati, Kolhapur, parts of Satara, Sangli and Pune benefited, other areas like Sangola, Maan, parts of Satara, Sangli, Pune, Solapur and Atpadi remained without water, he said.

Lakhe Patil said the Tembhu-Takari irrigation project in Sangole in western Maharashtra, a perennially drought-prone area, is incomplete due to lack of funds. Similarly, additional water storage capacity dams were built in the upper catchment areas of Jayakwadi Dam which, he said, went against irrigation rules. “Additional storage capacity breaks the catchment water which is meant for Jayakwadi in Marathwada. The conflict started because Jayakwadi does not get enough water,” he claimed.

In 2016, the Bombay High Court passed a historical judgement regarding equitable distribution of water and held that water is owned by the state and not any particular district, region, person or personality, he said.

The Mendhegiri Committee set up by the state government laid down a formula on distribution of water from the upper catchment area dams in Ahmednagar and Nashik districts as and when Jayakwadi Dam faced scarcity, he added.

The Vithalrao Vikhe Patil Sugar Factory and Mula Sugar Factory moved the Supreme Court against the release of water from these dams to Jayakwadi Dam but their plea was rejected by the apex court, said Lakhe Patil. Following the SC order, Nashik authorities released water earlier this month into Jayakwadi Dam.

Lakhe Patil added that 90 thousand million cubic feet of water from west-flowing rivers like Damanganga, Aurangiya, Ambika, Nar, Par goes into the Arabian Sea and no efforts had been made to store this water.

He added that Mahrashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority, with its chairperson being a retired Indian Administrative Officer with rank equivalent to the state Chief Secretary or a high court justice, had enough powers to tackle water conflicts.

Ratnakar Mahajan, former vice chairman of the Mahrashtra Planning Commission said the previous Congress-NCP government formulated a uniform water policy for the state through which it set up the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority.

But, he said, the authority could not function independently while taking decisions on water distribution for drinking and agricultural purposes due to political interference.

Apart from the water conflict related to Jayakwadi Dam, there are other ones too that are coming to the fore in the state.

Farmers in Sangola, a perennially drought-prone taluka inSolapur district, are demanding that water be released from the Tembhu lift irrigation project on the Krishna river.

They have alleged that water is not being released to them from upstream regions of Sangli and Satara due to political pressure.

In Nashik district’s Dindori taluka, farmers claim the quantity of their produce has declined as water from the east-flowing rivers in the district’s western talukas is getting over before the crops gained strength.

Farmers fromKalwan taluka in Nashik don’t want water from the Chankapur dam, across the Girna river, to be released to Malegaon and Chandwad, the eastern talukas of Nashik and, further, to Marathwada.

Officials said despite the general belief that there was plenty of water in the upper parts of the Godavari Basin, drinking water needs had grown tremendously due to rapid urbanisation among other aspects.

There are 23 dams in the Godavari and Tapi basins, but put together, their capacity is less than 50 per cent of that of Jayakwadi, these officials noted.

Economist H M Desarda attributed the present situation to what he claimed was a plunder of groundwater levels.

“The groundwater bank is in negative balance and depleted due to excessive pumping. There is a needfor holistic programme for rainwater harvesting. Rainwater needs to be conserved and impounded immediately, and replenished in the soil and vegetation,” he said.

Desarda also called for water literacy among policy makers and society.

National

West Nile fever: Health Ministry reviews Kerala’s preparedness

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New Delhi | In the wake of the death of a six-year-old boy, who was undergoing treatment for West Nile fever in Kerala, the Centre on Tuesday reviewed the current situation, preparedness and action taken to deal with the disease in the state’s Mallapuram district.

According to Union Health ministry officials, this could be the first fatality due to the vector-borne disease reported from the country. The Union Health ministry along with officials from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reviewed the state preparedness and action taken to deal with West Nile Fever (WNF) in Mallapuram district on Tuesday, an official said.

A multi-disciplinary central team is already deputed in Mallapuram to investigate various epidemiological aspects of West Nile Virus (WNV) there and also help the district administration in its prevention and management.

The state has been advised to follow the National Vector Borne Disease Control Program (NVBDCP) guidelines of personal protective measures to prevent mosquito bites.

The Ministry has also recommended vector surveillance and control to be carried out in coordination with NVBDCP. “It has been advised that all cases of JE/AES are to be investigated as per guidelines of JE/AES and also tested for West Nile Virus. Further, the community is to be sensitized through IEC campaigns on use of personal protective measures to prevent mosquito bites as per NVBDCP Guidelines,” a senior health ministry official said.

The boy, hailing from Malappuram district, was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital in neighbouring Kozhikode one week ago after he tested positive for the virus. He died on Monday.

West Nile Fever is a mosquito borne zoonotic disease caused by a flavivirus –WNV — and is related to viruses that cause Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever and St Louis encephalitis.

“Human infection is most often due to bites from infected mosquitoes. To date, no human-to-human transmission of WNV through casual contact has been documented. Infection with WNV is either asymptomatic (no symptoms) in around 80 per cent of infected people, or can lead to West Nile fever or severe West Nile disease,” a health ministry statement said.

Testing for West Nile Virus is available at the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and National Institute of Virology, Allapuzha. Facility for xeno-diagnosis with respect to infection among vectors is available at the Vector Control Research Center (VCRC), Kottayam.

NCDC branch in Kozhikode, in coordination with VCRC, Kottayam, will provide assistance for vector surveillance and xeno-diagnosis in the vector as well as prepare and disseminate a standardised hospital management protocol of AES case management to be followed by all hospitals catering to cases of AES.

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Bombay HC pulls up Maharashtra govt, BMC on coastal road project

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Mumbai | The Bombay High Court on Tuesday questioned the state authorities on how could they begin work on a coastal road project without determining whether it was going to adversely affect fishing communities and breeding ground for fish along the proposed road.

A bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar said while development was essential, it could not come at the cost of citizens. The court also took strong exception to apparent “lack of coordination” among the agencies involved in the project.

It noted that while the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) claimed to have all requisite data on issues like the number of people being affected and breeding ground for fish along the proposed area, the state fisheries department and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest did not have any information on the same.

BMC counsel Anil Sakhre told the court while a survey had been conducted in the Worli area to identify people and livelihoods that would be affected by a portion of the coastal road project, a survey along the entire stretch of around 19 kilometres was yet to be conducted by the state fisheries department.

The department, however, told the bench that it was inept to identify the breeding ground for fish along the above stretch and would need help from expert agencies under the central government. At this, the bench remarked that such a lack of coordination represented an extremely sorry state of affairs.

It said ideally, the agencies should have conducted such a survey before beginning work on the project. The court also said the state must have a uniform policy to assist and rehabilitate any person affected by the coastal road project. “Development should not come at the cost of the people,” the bench said.

“Your (parties in the case) submissions also reflect a very sorry state of affairs. Can’t you coordinate without the court’s intervention? Why don’t you get together, hold a meeting, take all stakeholders into confidence? Is it the court’s job to get all of you together and send you into a meeting room for discussion on your own project?” the bench said.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by members of two fishing societies, Worli Koliwada Nakhwa and Worli Machimmar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society, opposing the coastal road project that proposes to connect the Marine Drive area in the city to Kandivali.

The petitioners claimed the BMC and state authorities had not conducted any public hearing, or consultations with the fisher folk from the city before starting on the proposed project. They said in their plea that the construction and reclamation work will destroy fish breeding grounds and that the road once constructed, will take away their livelihood.

The BMC, however, submitted that the project was not going to have any adverse impact on the fishing community in the city. The court said the BMC will need to submit “scientific data” to prove its arguments.

The court has now directed the civic body to submit details of the fishing areas and breeding ground that fall along the proposed stretch, and the number of people likely to be affected by the project.

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Pollachi case: Madras HC seeks Tamil Nadu govt’s response to plea for court-monitored probe

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Chennai | The Madras High Court on Tuesday directed the Tamil Nadu government and the CBI to file their replies on a petition seeking a court-monitored probe into the Pollachi sexual harassment case.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani and Justice M Duraiswamy gave the direction when the petition by an advocate came up for hearing. It then posted the petition to April 10 for further hearing.

Petitioner P Pugalenthi referred to the Tamil Nadu government order transferring the case to the CBI based on a recommendation by the state DGP.

A gang of four men had on February 12 allegedly tried to strip a 19-year-old woman inside a car near Pollachi in Coimbatore district, shot a video of the act and blackmailed her using the visuals. With the incident triggering outrage amid reports that more women had been assaulted by the gang, the state government had last week issued an order transferring the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The petitioner submitted that the DGP had recommended the CBI probe since the case involved technical issues, including analysis of social media accounts. He also referred to the government order mentioning the name of the victim and said it was “unfortunate” the state ignored the fundamentals of justice and disclosed her identity.

He wanted the court to monitor the probe by the CBI, saying the DGP himself had stated the case demanded more laborious and dedicated investigation.

Meanwhile, a report from Coimbatore said the CB-CID, which is at present investigating the case, summoned editor of “Nakkheeran” R R Gopal to appear before it on March 25 in connection with the release of a video by the Tamil magazine reportedly containing visuals of some women being harassed by the gang.

Gopal had Monday moved the high court seeking anticipatory bail, apprehending arrest by police. He has alleged that the case had been foisted on him.

In Pollachi, almost all shops and other commercial establishments Tuesday downed shutters in support of a call given by various organisations seeking a court-monitored probe into the harassment case.

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