Tool execution for water allocation policy
The consultation workshops were not held as public events. Only selected people from the government and non-governmental sectors were invited. It was observed that the majority of participants were government officials. These workshops were presided over by the political leaders and Ministers, including the Minister with responsibility for the WRD which was in charge of implementing the participatory tool. The people who were selected as invited speakers mostly represented government agencies.2
A senior social activist referred to these consultation workshops as 'stage-managed events'. The workshops were managed and dominated by the presence of Ministers and officials sitting on the stage or dais during the event. The seating arrangement on the stage made the event look like a government-led discussion with less importance given to the nongovernment participants. The opening speeches by the Ministers created a favourable tone for the policy proposals, which was further amplified by the invited participants. Very few critical voices were heard in the workshops. This arrangement of space and the nature of invitees provided ample opportunities to override the evidence-based arguments provided by some of the participants and instead further arguments in the interests of the dominant political stakeholders.
One such evidence-based argument was made by the representatives of the social movements in Maharashtra. Based on the facts related to the existing inequity in the state, these representatives proposed an alternative water allocation policy based on a more inclusive principle of equity. This proposal was based on the principle of distribution of equal shares of water to all in the particular river basin or sub-basin, irrespective of whether individuals were landowners or not. This would of course benefit the landless rural community which has been at the receiving end of injustices caused by the age-old 'caste system' in India that has restricted land ownership to only a few upper-caste communities. The demand for such an equitable allocation policy came from actual community-based experiments and advocacy developed over the years by a group of activists and community organizations; the water rights movement in the state is spearheaded by several grass-roots organizations including the Shramik Mukti Dal organization. It was expected that this demand would be seriously considered since the benefits accruing were based on evidence coming from actual ground-level experiments and advocacy efforts.
However, in their opening speeches the political leaders including the Minister of the WRD strongly supported the reforms towards giving higher priority to industry in water allocation. This argument was made on the basis of the higher economic growth in the form of jobs and personal income that industries can bring for citizens. However, no concrete evidence was put forward in favour of this argument. The dominant groups were successful in ensuring that the opponents of reforms did not get adequate space to raise their demands and arguments.
It should be noted that in the same consultation process, the government began showcasing 'equity' as the primary principle for water allocation to be adopted in the MWRRA bill. During consultations, legal provisions were promised to ensure water rights for farmers in the form of entitlements. The emphasis on 'equity' was seen as an important change in the policy proposal achieved by the activists and organizations promoting public interest. But the operational definition of equity was narrow and ensured water only to agriculture landholders. At the same time it was proposed to provide higher priority for water allocation to industries as compared with farmers. Thus, considerable confusion and obscurity was created in the allocation policy, and especially in priorities for allocation (Wagle et al. 2012).