Water, water everywhere, but not a drop for farms

Updated: Apr 13, 2019, 07:56 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Gadchiroli gets 1,500 mm of rain yearly; barrages on Wainganga remain on paper

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop for farms
Rusted pipes at the site for years where irrigation work is still underway

Much like many other government projects, irrigation in parts of Gadchiroli remains a project on paper. The multiple barrages and lift irrigation projects sanctioned for villages in the district have been stuck in administrative hassles for decades.

The stalled project has deprived agricultural farms in the region of water supply for close to four decades. The R 617-crore budget for barrages on the Wainganga river in Chichdoh and Kotgal villages would have provided water for over 40,000 hectares of farmland. While the farmers suffer, political leaders blame each other for the mismanagement.

Villagers point to the spot where the irrigation work is moving at a snail's pace on the Wainganga river. Pics/Suresh Karkera
Villagers point to the spot where the irrigation work is moving at a snail's pace on the Wainganga river. Pics/Suresh Karkera

The political tug-of-war between the Congress and the BJP has deprived the region of any development for years. "We only cultivate paddy during monsoon, which is the main source of water supply for our farms and were looking forward to the irrigation projects. These two barrages alone would have provided round-the-year water to our farms," a local farmer said.

Congress leader and former MLA (2009-2014) Dr Namdeo Usendi said that most of the irrigation projects had to be halted owing to restrictions imposed by the Forest Conversation Act 1980. "The state government during the Congress regime was kind enough to sanction Rs 617 crore for the Chichdoh and Kotgal barrages."

Usendi denied the existence of any water scarcity in the district adding that only water for farmland was a concern. "We must understand that the entire district is included in the drainage basin of Godavari river. The Godavari confluences with many rivers at different locations. Water from these could be put to use in farming by ensuring that the irrigation projects are completed," said Dr Usendi.

Most of the barrages and lift irrigation projects were sanctioned during his tenure as MLA, he claimed, with the Kotgal barrage sanctioned in 2011. Three others at Palamgaon, Mahagaon, and Garra are still stuck. Usendi blamed the ruling government for the delay in implementation. "Lack of will and inter-departmental coordination are the only reasons for such crucial projects to remain on paper," he said.

Highlighting the irony in the region, Dr Abhay Bang, founder-director of the Society For Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) said that the Wainganga, one of the largest rivers in Maharashtra, flows along the West border of Gadchiroli and receives around 60-inch rainfall every year. "Yet the farmers, who constitute 80 per cent of the district's population, are always deprived of water for their fields. Lack of irrigation is a major hurdle in the economic growth of the district," he said. The Forest Conservation Act prohibits any large or medium size irrigation project lest the forest is submerged. "Secondly, while the politics of Maharashtra often revolves around irrigation, Gadchiroli is kept out of it for the lack of a strong political leader here. The state government permits 200 TMC water in Wainganga to flow away without holding it in barrages. The result is 95 per cent farmers subsisting on one crop per year," he elaborated.

The sitting BJP Member of Parliament from Gadchiroli, Ashok Nete, said that the government had sanctioned five barrages and two of them were already constructed at Chichdoh. "These two barrages are awaiting inauguration," he said.

The tender for another barrage at Kotgal has been floated too, he said, but the model code of conduct has halted the process briefly. "Three remaining barrages would also come up soon as we have all required permissions," Nete said, adding, "Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari's idea of constructing bridge-cum-barrages will help in storage of water as also for commuting. I have begun work on the proposal to be handed over to Gadkariji soon."

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