Mumbai: Ahead of the Mumbai visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 18 January, the Maharashtra government on Wednesday decided to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Israeli company Mekorot Development & Enterprise Ltd to develop a water grid in the drought-prone Marathwada region. The state cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday approved signing of the MoU to seek Israeli expertise at drought management and cost-efficient use of water in regions vulnerable to chronic droughts.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had visited Israel in 2015 and experienced first hand the execution of innovative water management technologies, announced the Marathwada water grid in November 2016, the year when the region suffered one of its worst-ever droughts.
“The project, estimated to cost Rs10,000 crore, aims to interlink the major dams in Marathwada region to enable scientific and cost-effective use of available water, especially in drought situations. The Israeli company we are signing the MoU with will offer its expertise at deployment of technologies to plug loss of water due to evaporation and lopsided distribution of water due to erratic rainfall or inconsistent distribution of rainfall in the catchment regions of dams," said a water resource ministry official, requesting anonymity.
Netanyahu will attend an India-Israel business summit 2018 in Mumbai on Thursday along with 60 Israeli companies which are part of the business delegation. Mekorot Development & Enterprise Ltd is part of the visiting delegation.
The Marathwada region, which comprises 8 districts, has a long history of droughts that has triggered a massive migration of farmers and labourers out of the region. In October 2014, when the Fadnavis government took charge, Marathwada was in the grip of its most severe drought since 1972. The region suffered three successive years of drought from 2014 which not only aggravated the agrarian crisis but also caused a severe scarcity of potable water in cities, forcing the state government and the railways to supply water to the Latur city by a specially commissioned train in 2016. At a special cabinet meeting at Aurangabad in November 2016, the Fadnavis government announced the water grid project to tide over the crisis.
Water sector experts, however, are not enthused about the Israeli help. Latur-based environmentalist and water sector activist Atul Deulgaonkar told Mint on the phone that the Israel model of water management systems was a wrong choice for India and particularly Maharashtra. “Israel can never be an ideal model for us because the water management systems that Israel has designed are energy and capital-intensive. What we need is models that can ensure sustainability and low investment of capital and energy. Technically, the Israeli model could be good but it is not suitable for us. In Marathwada, we need to revive, by using innovations, the dying wisdom which involved no use of energy, capital, and which was sustainable. For us, the best water management model is to be found in Australia," Deulgaonkar said.