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Drought & development: why Maharashtra is fast running out of water

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:45 IST

Maharashtra is facing a severe water crisis. And the government is clearly struggling to cope. Worse still, it's feared that the water sources that are left won't last till the monsoon two months away.

How dire is the situation?

  • The state's total water storage has gone down to 30% as against 50% this time last year.

  • In at least three districts, water sources have dried up almost entirely.

  • Most areas in Mumbai Metropolitan Region don't get water for two days a week.

  • The government is not in a position to meet the ever growing demands for water tankers from across Marathwada and western Maharashtra.

Also read: Drought, death & destroyed crops: just how much more can Marathwada take

  • The water level in the dams in Marathwada has plummeted to 7%, and the number of tankers supplied to villages and towns in the region has risen five times compared to last year.

  • In north Maharashtra, Amravati and Nagpur divisions, the dams and reservoirs hold just 31%, 35% and 37%, respectively, of their storage capacity.

  • What's compounded the problem is that the "water tanker mafia" has pounced on this "business opportunity". A tankerful of water is going for as much as Rs 2,500.

"The situation this year is quite serious. Whatever water is available is reserved for drinking purpose only. We hope to see better results of the ongoing projects under Jalyukta Shivar scheme," says Babandaro Lonikar, the minister for water supply and sanitation.

The scheme, under which the government is undertaking water and soil conservation work, though is not expected to yield the "desired outcome" until after "4-5" years, according to the experts.

In Marathwada, the districts of Latur, Beed and Osmanabad have "gone completely dry", according to the agriculture minister Eknath Khadse.

Latur, Beed, Osmanabad districts in Marathwada have gone completely dry, says @EknathKhadseBJP

"Marathwada is the worst-hit region. The water crisis has triggered several problems for the people there," he says. "We have formulated a contingency plan to overcome the situation."

What's caused the crisis?

  • The primary reason is the extended dry spell and extremely low rainfall over the last three years.

  • Rajendra Singh - the Raman Magsaysay Awardee who is often dubbed the "Waterman of India" - estimates that nearly 70% of Maharashtra is reeling from a severe drought.

    "This is a grave situation. People are facing shortage of drinking water, fodder, and they are being forced to migrate to cities in search of petty jobs to sustain themselves," Rajendra says.

  • Laying out other reasons for the crisis, he says, "Overexploitation of groundwater and mindless destruction of the environment in the name of development has resulted in the current situation."

Also read: Marathwada water crisis news: how water wars can consume India

What can be done?

  • The government must take urgent steps to prevent the "misuse of water resources by industries and agriculture", says Pradeep Purandare, former professor at the Water and Land Management Institute.

    "Most of the regions of Maharashtra have gone dry. There are farmers who are growing water-guzzling crops like sugarcane. The government must ban use of water for this crop across the state," he says.

  • On its part, the government has earmarked Rs 600 crore for a new scheme that aims to recharge the aquifer to improve groundwater table.

  • A cabinet sub-committee tasked with tackling the crisis has recommended that "the entire water available in the state be reserved only for drinking".

Also read: Terror attack: 50% of India is reeling from drought. Here's the impact at a glance

  • The state has deployed 1,751 tankers to supply water to drought-hit 1,340 villages and 2,362 hamlets.

  • It has also relaxed "water tanker guidelines to facilitate the smooth supply of drinking water to people in the affected areas". There was earlier a restriction on the movement of tankers beyond 50 km from the water source. "Now the restriction has been lifted for areas where water is not available within this limit," says Khadse.

State's plan to tackle crisis - Rs 600 cr to recharge aquifer, 1,751 tankers to supply worst-hit areas
  • The minister adds, "Railway wagons will be used to supply water to Latur city, which is the worst hit."

  • According to Rajendra, the "best solution" for the crisis is "community driven decentralised water management". "We have been working on this solution for over three decades now in Rajasthan. The results are sustained and highly encouraging. The same needs to be implemented in Maharashtra," he adds.

    Rajendra has been working with social groups over the past year to "revive dead rivers" across Maharashtra.

  • Praising the efforts being made under the Jalyukta Shivar scheme, Rajendra says the government needs to "intensify them". It'll help in aquifer recharge during monsoon, thereby creating "fixed deposits of water", he says.

  • "This is the most promising solution to Maharashtra's water crisis," he says. "The state needs to look for long-term and sustained solutions. There is no instant solution to the water crisis, no matter how much money the government throws at it."

More in Catch:

Bundelkhand is the epicentre of drought & people don't even know it: Yogendra Yadav

Govt has failed drought victims by starving MGNREGA of funds

A farmer's wake-up call to India: try to understand why we die

First published: 22 February 2016, 10:25 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.