Maharashtra’s groundwater crisis is so bad that farmers might need special approval to plant water-intensive crops


  • As per the state’s draft Groundwater Development and Management Rules, 2018, farmers of water-intensive crops will have to get an approval from a district-level body in order to cultivate such crops.
  • If it is passed by the state legislature, the ruling will extend to areas where the annual groundwater recharge levels are less than extraction levels.
  • In January this year, the Central Ground Water Board found that 57% of Maharashtra’s observational wells had recorded a decline in pre-monsoon groundwater levels between 2016 and 2017.
Maharashtra’s sugarcane and banana farmers could be in for a rude shock in the near future. As per a draft of the state’s Groundwater Development and Management Rules, 2018, farmers of water-intensive crops will have to get an approval from a Watershed Water Resources Committee (WWRC) in order to cultivate them. The draft rules, which are currently under public consultation, are aimed at mitigating the state’s groundwater woes.

The WWRC will be a district-level body comprising of a panchayat leader as well as officials from the state ministries of water, sanitation, animal husbandry and agriculture. In order to assess a farmer’s application, the body will consult with geologists from Maharashtra’s Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency. A farmer’s application is expected to take 30 days to process.

If it is passed by the state legislature, the ruling will extend to areas where the annual groundwater recharge levels are less than its extraction levels. Maharashtra has 1,531 such districts where this situation exists.

This is not the only measure the Maharashtra government is taking to prevent the continued depletion of groundwater, the government is also planning to hike the cess levied by Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority on the extraction through deep wells by as much as four times the original amount.

A consequence of agricultural excess

A groundwater crisis has been affecting the state of Maharashtra for a while now. In January this year, the Central Ground Water Board, a government agency, found that 57% of the state’s observational wells had recorded a decline in pre-monsoon groundwater levels between 2016 and 2017.

Furthermore, the maximum acceptable level of metal concentration had been breached in wells in 20 of the state’s districts, indicating a severe contamination problem. This is largely due to the gratuitous use of chemical fertilisers and discharge of industrial effluents.

Ironically, the groundwater crisis is a byproduct of Maharashtra’s agricultural drive. Between 1977 and 2007, the number of borewells in the state had increased four-fold to 2.2 million to support increasing agricultural production. This led to the an unsustainable level of groundwater extraction. The problem has been exacerbated by wasteful irrigation practices and over-production of water-intensive crops like sugarcane.

And unless the aforementioned measures are implemented, it doesn’t look like the problem will abate anytime soon. Maharashtra’s production of sugarcane is expected to rise by 37% to 10 million tonnes this year.
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