Water wars: tankers & wells are the battlefields on Holi eve in drought-hit Latur
It is said that if at all there is a the third world war, it would be over water. If not a war, battles over water have already started in Maharashtra while most of North India prepares to waste water on Holi.
With water in reservoirs at less that 20% of the capacity, uncertainty has gripped the state. People are trying to snatch every single drop of water available. They are ready to go on rampage to get their share of water and even snatch the share of others.
In Latur district, people are completely dependent on water tankers sent by the government. Due to acute scarcity, water is supplied once a week to Latur city and once a month to other parts of the district.
Since there is no guarantee that the tanker will be back after a month, people try to grab as much water as they can. This often results in scuffles and brawls among citizens.
On many occasions, the tanker driver and other staff feel so insecure that they abandon the tanker till every drop of water is taken away in a way the people deem right. Many tankers have been damaged in the process, which ends up disrupting the supply schedule even further.
Latur is one of the districts the state government has declared drought-affected.
Preventing water riots
Alarmed by the gravity of the problem, the district collector Pandurang Pole came out with an unprecedented idea. He imposed Section 144 of the CrPC, around water tankers and water storage tanks in the district. It means, only five people can gather around the water tankers. This is happening for the first time in the history of the state. This order will be in force till 31 May. The civic administration has identified the water tankers and other water sources in the city which are prone to attacks by distressed people.
"The notification issued in this regard also covers the water sources where tankers are filled, public wells and even the routes taken by tankers to supply water. The notification is applicable to the entire district," said a senior district official who did not wish to be named.
Water is supplied once a week to Latur city and once a month to other parts of the district
The decision has come after a number of incidents of tankers being hijacked. Local politicians were found to be involved in some of these incidents. The official said that hundreds of people gather at wells, which leads to law and order problems.
According to state government, the Latur Municipal Corporation has deployed 20 water tankers for the city while the district administration has deployed 700 tankers for the district.
Latur is the home district of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and former union home minister Shivraj Patil. Despite being represented by these two stalwarts, it is among the most underdeveloped districts in Maharashtra.
However, Deshmukh had followed up and completed the Dhanegaon irrigation project in 2004, which envisaged round the clock water supply to the city. He had also ensured that all the wells in the city were replenished and new bore wells were dug. But today, the Dahegaon irrigation project has completely dried up as have the wells.
Amit Deshmukh, son of Vilasrao Deshmukh, is now trying to get water for the city and district from the Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad district or Ujani Dam in Solapur district. However, given the strong opposition of local people to share water from their dams, Deshmukh's efforts might not yield much.
The decision of the district administration to impose Section 144 is seen as the well come step to curb anti social elements and also to check water wastage.
"This is a good decision. The district administration was forced to take the decision after some people, with political interests, tried to hijack water tankers. This resulted in scuffle between groups at many places. The decision is purely taken to prevent law and order situation," said Akhtar Sheikh, mayor of Latur.