The World Bank has signed a deal to lend the Government of India US$325M for a project that will rehabilitate irrigation schemes and enhance the safety of several dams.

Maharashtra Water Sector Improvement Project (MWSIP) aims to rehabilititate and modernise 286 selected irrigation schemes covering about 670,000ha of culturable command area, enchance the safety of 291 dams, improve water management practices and instruments, strengthen agriculture support services and implement a social and environmental management plan.

The MWSIP agreement was signed by Michael Carter, the Bank’s Indian director, and Madhusudhan Prasad, joint secretary for India’s finance ministry. Also present at the signing were Finance Minister P Chidambaram and World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz.

At the end of a visit to India, Wolfowitz confirmed that the Bank is also ready to lend up to US$3B over the next three years to support rural infrastructure in India, with a focus on building roads, providing drinking water and establishing irrigation facilities. Wolfowitz said that the repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies is a national priority for India.

The MWSIP focuses on the following four components:

Water sector institutional restructuring and capacity building. This component focuses on institutional reforms that will strengthen the state’s capacity for multisectoral planning, development and management of state’s water resources on a river basin basis.

Irrigation service delivery and management. To improve irrigation system performance of irrigation service to farmers, promote effective participation of water user’s associations in management of irrigation schemes, increase cost recovery implement water entitlements and raise the level of agricultural support services delivery.

Innovative pilots. This component will support four user-centered aquifer level groundwater management and four irrigated agriculture pilot projects.

Project management. This will support (i) a state-level project preparation and management unit, (ii) project monitoring and evaluation via an agency external to the Government of Maharashtra and (iii) communications campaign to create awareness about the project initiatives and to build broad-based consensus and support for the MWSIP and reform programme.

Maharashtra is India’s second largest state geographically and has the country’s third highest population. Nearly 60% of the people live in rural areas, of which about 80% are engaged in agriculture, consuming 80% of the state’s water. Availability of water is highly uneven, as rainfall only occurs 40 to 100 days a year.

The state faces complex challenges in managing its water, such as: increased competition within the sector; rapidly growing urban centres and industries; poor performance of irrigated agriculture and poor irrigation service delivery.