With monsoon still a couple of months away, the water crisis in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is getting worse with rapid depletion of water levels in dams across the region. According to the data received from the state water resources department, all the dams in the region are left with just 5.4 per cent of live water compared to 31.3 per cent of water storage last year.
Locals blame poor policies are the major cause and has pushed the region into its one of the worst droughts ever. It has become so difficult at a stage where the village women in Latur district walk over 2 km twice a day to fetch water which has made the region worse for living.
Looking at the magnitude of the crisis, the state government has deployed water on trains with over 50 wagons as a desperate measure to control the crisis. But however, as the crisis deepens, people have started questioning the nature of government who are to be held responsible for the situation today and why were the preventive measure were not taken long back? Unlike other disasters, drought gives sufficient warning. It was building for the past five years. Why did the state government not reserve water for drinking and regulate water supply to industries?” asks Pradeep Purandare, ex-associate professor at the Water and Land Management Institute, Aurangabad.
About the policy-making structure, H M Desarda, a former member of the Maharashtra State Planning Commission, goes a step further when he says the state is facing a “policy-induced water scarcity”. “Faulty policies, regional imbalance, wrong cropping pattern, unregulated mining of the groundwater and political apathy have ruined the rural economy,” says Desarda
Looking at Marathwada region, there are about nine major reservoirs — Paithan (Jayakwadi), Manjara, Majalgaon, Yeldari, Siddeshwar, Lower Manar, Lower Terna, Lower Dudhana and Sina Kolegaon in Marathwada have just 0.7% water stock left. Among the nine reservoirs, only Lower Manar in Nanded has 20.63% water stock left for use.
The right crop at the wrong time
The sugarcane curse has made the situation even worse for Marathwada region as several farmers have dumped drought-resistant crops such as jowar and chana for water-intensive cash crops such as sugarcane.
Uday Deolankar, agriculture officer, Aurangabad, says while crops such as moong and maize, which were traditionally grown in the region, consume 3.5 -7 million litres of water per ha to grow, sugarcane needs 25 million litres of water per ha. But sugarcane farming continues despite the drought. In Marathwada, the sugarcane area has gone up from 184,900 ha in 2009-10 to 219,400 ha in 2014-15. In the same period, sugarcane
production in Latur increased from 39,900 ha to 46,400 ha. The production of Kharif jowar for the same period, however, reduced from 117,200 ha to 88,300 ha.
Farmers at this region have still got to blame the government for creating the needless demand for sugarcane which has forced farmers to shift from traditional crops to assured cash returns from sugarcane as Latur alone has 13 sugar factories in the region.
Looking at the impact it has created The Maharashtra government has finally woken up and decided to not give new permits to sugar factories in Marathwada for the next five years.
Balasaheb Ghuge, a small farmer from Osmanabad, says more and more people from the region would leave their villages in the next few weeks as Surviving is going to be difficult because there are no resources left for water. Every summer, thousands migrate to western Maharashtra in search of jobs, but this year the number will increase. Already, many people have left their villages,” he said. However, even western Maharashtra is facing water scarcity. Compared to 40 per cent live water storage in dams in the region last year, western Maharashtra has 27 per cent water in its dams.
The Vidarbha region is also reeling under water shortage. The Amravati division in Vidarbha has comparatively better water storage ( 25.6 per cent) than Nagpur division which has 12.21 per cent live storage.
With people migrating to a better place in the quest for a standard way of living with basic amenities, it is important for the government to look at our villages and build policies to make them livable again especially when more than 90% of the villages are facing their worst crisis ever for water.