Overlooked Realities of Maharashtra and Odisha

Authors – Debayani Panja (Research Associate, CIRC) and Konica Sehgal (Intern, CIRC)

Every person has a right to potable water. Insufficient water infrastructure has indirect linkage to productivity of men and women, leading to health problems, out-of-pocket medical expenditures and loss of employment days. This affects overall growth of a society. In India, water is a state subject. Adequate and potable drinking water to the whole of India has been a priority since Independence. National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) by central government aims to cover the entire nation under water coverage, the figure of which stands at 86% as per 2001 census.

Groundwater is treated as a common good in India leading to exploitation. Availability of clean potable water is the minimum precondition for an improved standard of living in the country. Water quality in India has worsened due to over drafting of groundwater, geo-genic contamination of surface water, insufficient mechanisms and technology to check water quality and minimal attention paid to water quality issues.


The case of Maharashtra and Odisha:

Coverage of habitations through hand pumps –

Source : CIRC research team and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Coverage of habitations under PWS –

Source : CIRC research team and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Maharashtra falls in the rain-shadow zone of the monsoon winds. One-third of the state experiences semi-arid climate and four-fifth of the state falls under impervious basaltic trap. In rural areas groundwater is the primary source for agricultural and commercial use. But indiscriminate use of groundwater for irrigation makes it a scarce resource. Reduction or failure of monsoons and emphasis on cash crops like sugarcane, oranges, and cotton exacerbate the water scarcity. Parts of western Maharashtra and Marathwada region (over 20 million people) are facing drought like situation due to water unavailability. Ground water tables are depleting exponentially, far below 500 feet at some places and at an astounding 1200 foot in districts like Beed. The Maharashtra Groundwater Act, 2009 was introduced to control the overexploitation of ground water and make the state responsible for its management.

Odisha on the other hand, falls in the geological plain of 8 river basins (Mahanadi, Baitarni, Subarnarekha etc.) and enjoys a humid tropical climate. High rainfall ensures bountiful water resources, fertile soils and extensive arable lands. Average rainfall received by the state is 1502 mm and it is the chief source of ground water recharge. Return flows of irrigation and canal seepage are the other means of ground water recharge. Ground water is the chief source of water being used in Odisha, procured from tube wells, dug wells or bore wells etc. Although ground water sources are extensive they constantly face the threat of being contaminated with arsenic, fluoride, iron or the recurring problem of salinity. Lack of proper sanitation facilities or waste management exacerbates the situation.

Recent recurrent phenomenon of drought-flood-cyclone syndrome has further restricted the availability of the uncontaminated surface water sources. This has further enhanced the strain on ground water sources. Surprisingly, the rise in the ground water contamination and unscientific extraction started some time back. But this has not overhauled the process of using piped water supply, which is only 35%. The compounded reasons of lack of funding, resources and the political will, has become an impediment in laying piped water sources, even if they are laid the surety that water will be supplied through them is nil.

From the above comparisons, it becomes clear that not only is it possible but also sustainable to hinder and eventually overcome the process of unscientific extraction of ground water. Maharashtra is one state that can be emulated across the Eastern state of Odisha, where unscientific usage of ground water along with lack of piped water supply has given rise to consumption of contaminated water. Being a tourist friendly state, a similar law will help to contain the spread of diseases and increase the flow of tourists. A holistic planning system and implementation of the same with increased PWS needs to be in place providing long term approach to the rising problem, instead of piecemeal.

The success in Maharashtra has not been achieved solely by the government. Private sector has contributed and diligently aided the efforts of the state government. Public Private Partnerships with BOT (Build Operate and Transfer) have been very successful in implementing the laws laid out by the government. There is a need to upscale the efforts in Maharashtra and emulate the same in Odisha. PPPs provide great opportunities for it. We have to introduce the private player as a protagonist of the story in contrast to earlier where the private player worked from back-stage. Innovative models of partnership should be introduced while promoting not for profit work in the field. Proper checks and balances are needed to bring the required reforms in both the states.