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Sugar Farmers Divert Water in Maharashtra

Author: Kiran Tare
Publication: India Today
Date: July 16, 2012

Introduction: Ministers ensure water meant for parched regions makes its way to their constituencies

Vast swathes of Maharashtra are parched with thirst as powerful politicians divert water for their own purposes. The state's second biggest dam Ujani, in Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's Lok Sabha constituency Madha, has been providing water for the area since its inception in 1980. But of its 117 TMC (thousand million cubic metre) of water, 60 TMC is being illegally diverted to sugarcane fields, creating acute water shortage in hundreds of villages in eight taluks?Madha, Pandharpur, Mohol, Mangalvedha, Malshiras, North Solapur, South Solapur, Akkalkot?of Solapur district.

 India Today has access to a confidential report prepared by officials at the Ujani dam in January this year which explains how the water was to be divided. According to the report, Ujani's water supply is reserved for crops like chilli, jowar, bajra, groundnut, maize, sunflower, tur, wheat, gram and vegetables. However, 51 per cent of its supply goes to six lakh hectares of sugarcane fields spread across three districts. These districts have as many as 50 sugar factories, most of them run on a cooperative basis under which farmers are the biggest shareholders and Congress and Nationalist Congress Party politicians have controlling shares.

 Dam officials have repeatedly pointed out to the Maharashtra Water Resources Department about sugarcane fields owned by Rajendra Tambele, a close aide of Sharad Pawar, on more than 100 acres of the dam land at Hingangaon. These get a disproportionate share of water.

 On May 29, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan admitted in his presentation before Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia that water-intensive cropping pattern (read sugarcane) is the reason behind the state's failure in achieving its irrigation targets. "Out of 358 taluks in the state, 148 are drought-prone," he said, while submitting the state's annual plan of Rs 55,000 crore for 2012-13.

 The Nira-Deoghar dam, completed in 2007 at a cost of Rs 910 crore and with a capacity of 32 TMC water, was meant to bail out Satara farmers. Instead, it services farmers in Baramati, the stronghold of Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar, the deputy chief minister. "I have never faced water shortage thanks to the canal on Nira river," says Baramati farmer Shahaji Jamdar, 35, who sells his sugarcane crop to Chhatrapati Cooperative Sugar Factory, in which Ajit Pawar holds 300 shares and Sharad Pawar 100 shares out of more than 10,000 shares.

 Around 120 km from Phaltan, Vishal Mali, 23, a villager of Bamni in Khanapur taluk of Sangli district, does not get water to irrigate his less-than-one-acre farm. A canal runs on the outskirts of his village. The canal, which originates from Takari, around 50 km from Bamni, was built to carry water from Krishna river. When water is discharged in the canal around 500 villages get water for farms. However, at Bamni, a sub-canal has been dug to divert much of the water towards the Udgiri Sugar Factory and Power Plant, still under construction and owned by Mohan Kadam, younger brother of Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam. Mali, who works on the construction site, says, "The villages to the right of the canal get water but not the villages on the left." A site inspection carried out by India Today bore this out.

 The lake in Home Minister R.R. Patil's village Anjani, in Tasgaon taluka of Sangli district, ran dry in February. Grape is a major crop in this area. The government discharges 2 TMC water for this lake from a water scheme at Mhaisal, around 30 km from Anjani. However, farmers allege that the water does not reach the lake because Patil's older brother Suresh diverts it to his farms. The diversion has affected grape fields spread over 500 hectares in Tasgaon. "The water flow is controlled by a valve which is coincidentally fixed near Suresh's farms. He turns the valve off so that water supply terminates at his farms," says Subhash Mali, 45, a farmer from Savlaj, 3 km from Anjani.

 The previous Shiv Sena-BJP government had planned a project under which water from the Panchganga river in Kolhapur was expected to discharge into the Nira river in Satara and supply it to the drought-prone areas. As soon as he became chief minister in October 1999, Congress's Vilasrao Deshmukh announced a scheme to take 29 TMC of 70 TMC water from the Nira river to his constituency Latur through a canal. The result: The drought-prone taluks of Satara-Khatav, Man, Phaltan and Khandala?are woefully in need of water. Former Shiv Sena MP Hindurao Nimbalkar had led an agitation against the decision. He is now in political hibernation after the Shiv Sena disowned him for opposing Deshmukh.

 Even Water Resources Minister Sunil Tatkare's home town Roha, in Raigad district, reels under water scarcity. A dam built at Sutarwadi to fulfil the water needs of Roha taluk has not helped, with water from it mostly servicing farms owned by the minister's son Aniket. "I cannot be blamed if my farms are near the dam," says Tatkare. His department had announced 76 water schemes under Bharat Nirman Yojana to supply potable water. Around 41 out of these 76 schemes are still incomplete.

"The drought in Maharashtra is not a natural calamity but a result of the government's bad policies," says water expert Bharat Patankar.
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