In 2012-13, Maharashtra state faced a severe drought-like situation with water tables falling by as much as three meters in several blocks. Prabhakar Deshmukh, the then Pune Municipal Commissioner, conceptualized a Jalyukta Gaon Abhiyan in five districts of Pune division: Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Solapur.

The programme which was to be funded via Integrated Watershed Management Programme of 2008 and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme Fund, besides state and local district level sources, was expected to benefit around 1000 villages at a cost of approximately ₹1327 crores. The work was kicked off in right earnest. However, the then Congress – NCP state government had also decided to invest in large irrigation projects, – where over a period of time ₹70,000 crores were allocated – and this successful yet localized programme was neither scaled up nor replicated.

This humongous public investment was a source of much politicking through the October 2014 assembly election campaign, with allegations of corruption and fund diversions. When Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis took over the reins of the new BJP – Shiv Sena state government, he could not have relied on the large irrigation programmes to solve Maharashtra’s recurring and acute water scarcity. Among the first things the Fadnavis government did, alongside initiating irrigation scam enquiries, was to adopt the Deshmukh experiment from Pune wholeheartedly and launch Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan (literally water filled land / fields programme) in December 2014.

When Fadnavis took over as the CM, Maharashtra was already reeling under the effects of a deficient 2014 monsoon – 24,000 out of nearly 50,000 villages in the state had scarce water supply available. Large parts of the state lie in the semi-arid areas but, even then, more than 80% of the cultivable area in the state depends solely on monsoon rains for farming. Most parts of Vidarbha and Marathwada face uncertain and ill-timed rain spells each year. This affects not only the source of livelihood for the agriculture-dependent population, but also results in brutal social stress, leading to farmer suicides and resultant collapse of local economic structures.

Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan

Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan was launched with an aim to make Maharashtra water scarcity-free in the next five years. The programme will focus on restoration, repair, rejuvenation and construction of local water bodies in rural areas. These water bodies, where possible, will also be linked to nearby rivers, allowing a  continuous, uninterrupted flow of water for local irrigation requirements, reducing the dependencies on individual investments which farmers usually make to tend to their fields.

The programme will focus on connecting local water streams to larger water bodies, creating percolation tanks and bunds and de-silting existing rural water bodies, including use of cement lining to ensure permanent water retention and storage. Several works also focus on rejuvenating the now-silted or encroached water bodies constructed after the 1972 drought. Additionally, the government is also encouraging construction of Kolhapur Type weirs – barriers, which originated in Kolhapur a century back and are known to retain water in small areas effectively for community use.

Deshmukh, who is now the secretary with the rural development and water ministries, is at the helm of designing and implementing the programme. Alongside the Chief Minister, the ministers championing the programme are rural development and water conservation minister Pankaja Munde and water resources minister Girish Mahajan. Incidentally, their respective districts Nagpur, Beed and Jalgaon / Buldhana – have all suffered over the years from water scarcity.

The state government has allocated ₹5,000 crore for the programme, though in the first year, the grants are capped at ₹1,000 crore, given the budgetary challenges the government faces. By March 2016, the government aims to make 5,000 villages drought free. These are the villages most impacted by vagaries of Indian monsoon.

In its current form, the programme has been equipped with an effective oversight, control and monitoring mechanism, right from the individual unit of work being executed to the Chief Minister’s Office. All works are planned at a village level, with approval and agreement from Gram Sabha, thus targeting highly customized local solutions without the burden of top-down approach. The funding for the works is channeled solely via allocation made for the programme, thus eliminating the duplication of central and state funds on rural development and water conservation.

District collectors in all districts have been appointed as nodal officers and have been given specific instructions to report on the progress regularly over the Internet portals each district maintains on the National Informatics Center (NIC) infrastructure. This tracking is publicly visible and increases accountability. As an example, the details of works in the Jalna district of Aurangabad division can be accessed here:  (link opens a PDF document in Marathi language). The CM office then monitors the progress of the works directly – in fact since the launch of the programme, Fadnavis himself has toured almost all districts where the works have commenced.

Public Participation and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Integration

Although the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan is targeting the worst hit 10% of the Maharashtra villages in year 1 via government funding, the programme is already attracting citizen, NGO and CSR involvement, which will help broaden its the footprint over time. The programme had initially targeted about 70,000 works in the first set of 5,000 villages. This number has already gone up to 76,000 in the first few months of the launch.

Local villagers in many districts have been at the forefront of the programme, not just in decision- making, but also in actual execution and monetary contributions. Mr. Fadnavis tweeted this example from Latur district, where individuals have contributed sums as high as ₹100,000:

https://twitter.com/Dev_Fadnavis/status/611444787531509762

Also, in Latur, the Art of Living foundation worked on reviving Rena River and creating permanent water flow after significant dredging effort. This initiative is expected to irrigate 1,500 acres of nearby land. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar tweeted the details on this initiative:

https://twitter.com/SriSri/status/608099715612221442

In Nagpur, NGOs like Art of Living Foundation, Datta Meghe Foundation and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Land and Water Campaign have joined hands with the local authorities to complete ambitious works like linking multiple canals to River Vena for improved irrigation options and increasing water storage by about 40 TCM. These NGOs are working on canal lengths of 25 km, facilitating increased production of rabi crop in an area where crops routinely get affected due to water shortages.

In Pune, Volkswagen, which operates huge assembly lines for its range of cars, is donating ₹51 lakhs via its CSR program for Jalyukta Shivar initiatives. The CSR programme is working in Gulani and Naiphad villages of Khed taluka, and is expected to add enough additional water capacity so as to store additional water for a full year of village consumption.

Speed and Transparency of Execution

One distinguishing feature of the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan has been the speed of execution and the transparency involved in awarding contracts for the rural works. All contractors who wish to participate in tendering process are required to compulsorily get enrolled on the e-tendering portal of the state – and also get empanelled on the water resources departments sub portal . All tenders being issued for construction work are available on public sites and these are being clubbed where possible for ease of award and retaining economies of scale. The time frame decided for tenders is relatively small – typically 2 to 3 months including monsoon months – this ensures regular progress and smaller windows for local politicians or bureaucrats to interfere or intervene. All decisions on implementation are devolved at the level of the nodal office – the district collector.

Use of Technology and Mobile First Approach

Maharashtra government has also sought to link the tracking and monitoring of the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan to the vision of Digital India in line with the central government thrust to improve governance accountability. The government is leveraging mobile technology for better targeting of the improvement works as well as to ensure accountability in completion.

Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre has been roped in to help the government track the progress. A mobile app for Android platform has been created, which can be downloaded from a state government website. The app includes an Asset Mapping Module, which can be used by local Gram Sabha or other officials to locate and map each asset covered under the programme. Each asset has been assigned a unique id, facilitating tracking at the most micro level. Depending on the nature of the work, the Asset Attributes can be configured in the app, and submitted to the portal designed for the programme. When the asset details are submitted, the same has to be done with a lat / long coordinate derived from phone’s GPS to ensure no data is being fudged.

The government aims to map every asset funded under Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan, with pictures available of the three points of execution – start, work in progress and completion. This will reduce leakage of funds for bogus work and reduce cases of false reports of construction progress.

The status of asset mapping can be checked on the portal – all details are in Marathi language.

Positive Expert Reviews

This creative and ambitious programme has been approved by water conservation experts so far. Rajendra Singh, a renowned water management expert from Alwar, known as “waterman of India” and recipient of Stockholm Water Prize (“Nobel Prize for Water”) and Magsaysay Award for community leadership, has been all praise for the programme. Earlier in June 2015, he remarked at a public event: “The scheme is good but the contractors are quite capable of spoiling the whole concept. The government should involve people in the scheme. People’s participation is the only way for effective implementation”.

Low Cost, Big Impact Programme

Government initiatives in India are launched by the dozens, but they are often found wanting because they mandate a top-down approach without citizen participation and do not find permanent solutions. The government also seeks to retain control of planning and execution, which delays the implementation often, thereby increasing the cost to the public exchequer or landing into both problems simultaneously.

Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan goes against these typical bureaucratic problems on all counts. It promotes decentralisation of water resources and their usage, while it is also designed to achieve faster and cheaper execution and finding and creating solutions which are permanent in nature, with permanence being made the local user responsibility.

Within just over six months of launch, it appears that Fadnavis has a potential winner in his hands. He will have to watch out for local commercial interests derailing implementation, especially from commercial construction lobbies which thrived on irrigation funds diversion over the last many years. The ‘small execution’ design of Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan hurts entrenched builders and government contractors, and with the state government dependent on a political coalition to survive, these interests might throttle progress from time to time.

If Fadnavis succeeds in his ambition of making Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan successful, it will have served many purposes, – governmental and political. BJP, which performed poorly in rural areas in 2014 Maharashtra elections may find an unlikely economics-driven political entrenchment.

Perhaps the best endorsement for Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan comes from the opposition Congress MLA from Sillod constituency in Aurangabad district, Abdul Sattar. He has been covering his involvement quite enthusiastically on his website.

His speech at one such event – picture below – sounded exactly like a typical Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis speech on the subject. The only missing part was a mention of BJP and the state government – there is no bigger endorsement of a state policy in India than the principal opposition attempting to appropriate it.

The author wishes to thank Mukul Agarwal, @MukulAgarwal66 on Twitter, for his inputs to this article

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