Reform Initiatives in the Water Resources Sector in Maharashtra State in India

Maharashtra State , which is 3 rd largest state in India , has created an irrigation potential of 4 Mha. Irrigation utilizes 70-80 % of the total water use in the state. However, the sector has been affected badly by the problems of low utilisation of created potential, conflict within various categories of users and unsatisfactory levels of water use efficiency and cost recovery. There was thus a pressing need to tackle the situation from consideration of productivity, equity and sustainability.

A holistic approach has there, been adopted by the state involving policy reforms, legal enactment, capacity building and stakeholder participation. Subsequent to framing of a State Water Policy in 1993, two important legal measures were taken in 2005 by enacting the Management of Irrigation Systems by Farmers Act and Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act.

Maharashtra among the first few states in India to have framed water policy keeping in view the problems in the water sector and the challenges to be faced in 21 st century because of the growing population and increasing demand from various categories of users and to lay down the road map comprises strategies and approaches to face the challenges. Integrated Water Resources Management is the corner stone of the policy. Need for watershed management, groundwater aquifer management and drought management have been stressed. The policy has innovative features like advocation of Water Auditing and Benchmarking of Irrigation Projects.

Farmer's participation in irrigation management is an age-old tradition in the state. The ‘Phad' system and ‘Malgujari Tank' systems are examples. However, with the advent of Government controlled large irrigation canal systems, traditional practices have gradually disappeared. The Farmers Management of Irrigation System Act of 2005 aims to rehabilitate the existing old system to meet the irrigation management requirement especially of tail enders and hand over the irrigation systems to Water Users Association for further management and maintenance. Volumetric supplies to the Association for distribution by farmers themselves is the other objective of the Act.

To regulate the water resources within the state facilitate and ensure judicious, equitable and sustainable management, allocation and utilisation of water resources and to fix rates for use of water by agriculture, industrial and drinking water, the Water Regulatory Authority was established in 2005. The authority is headed over by a former Chief Secretary of the state and has expert in Water Resources and Economics as Members.

The above policy and Legal measures were introduced following full consultative process with non-governmental organisation, experts and stakeholders. Their concerns have been addressed in these measures introduced.

Although water rates in the state are higher than those in the other states and the water revenue has in recent years fully covered the O&M requirement, the high cross subsidisation of the O&M needs of the irrigation sector by other users, whose consumption levels are much lower is a matter of concern. The water regulator is required to look into this aspect. With above measures it is expected that the state will be a role model in water resources management in the country.