The Maharashtra government has taken a policy decision of desilting dams and water bodies in the State. The silt recovered from these bodies would be provided to farmers for enhancing the fertility of their farmland while the sand would be exploited commercially.

Experts have welcomed the policy as it will increase the total volume of the water in the dams but they have pointed that the process of carrying the silt from the dams to the farmlands could not be economical.

The State has 86 large, 258 medium and 3,108 small dam projects. The contractors will desilt the dams and segregate the silt from the sand.

Royalty payment

A senior government official said that the segregated silt would be provided to farmers free of cost but the farmers will have to pay for carrying the silt from the dams to their farms. The sand recovered from the dams would be sold commercially by the contractors by paying the royalty to the State.

However, at times, the process of segregation of sand could get difficult as the sieves may not work efficiently, the contractors could pay a lesser royalty on the volume of sand recovered, the official said.

Unscientific mining

The official also pointed that sand mining from the rivers is being carried in an unscientific and environmentally hazardous manner; therefore, the sands from the dams will at least increase the sand availability in the market, which will reduce the pressure on the rivers.

Coordinator for South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SNDRP), Himanshu Thakkar, said the policy decision is good as it will add to the total water carrying capacity of the dams but most of the dams are located far way from the fields; therefore, carrying the silt over large distances could be uneconomical, he said. SNDRP is a leading NGO working on issues relating to rivers, communities and large-scale water infrastructure such as dams.

Impact assessment

Thakkar added that before the desilting is allowed, a proper environmental impact assessment has to be carried so that water turbidity and erosion of the reservoir banks is avoided.

Geologist at IIT Hyderabad, D Chandrasekharam said that desilting should have been carried out much earlier by the government. Removal of silt will recharge the groundwater aquifers and add to the total capacity of the reservoirs, he said.