Can Marathwada afford to undertake Sugarcane Crushing in this terrible drought?

Since 2012, farmers in Maharashtra, especially in Marathwada and Vidarbha region of central and eastern Maharashtra are faced with unending mountains of crisis. What started as drought of 2012 went on in form of violent rains at places in 2013, hailstorms of February-March 2014, scanty monsoon in 2014 and unseasonal rains at places in November 2014, affecting lakhs of farmers. Agricultural production has suffered losses as impact of scanty rainfall has been compounded by absence of rains in critical time windows when soybean was filling and cotton bolls were forming. More than 8000 villages in Marathwada region which comprises of Aurangabad, Nanded, Parbhani, Latur, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna and Osmanabad have recorded crop losses of more than 50%.

Marathwada region in Maharashtra Map from: Marathi Wikipedia

Marathwada region in Maharashtra Map from: Marathi Wikipedia

The entire Winter Assembly of the newly formed Government seems to be clouded by discussions of drought package and increasing farmer suicides in Marathwada and Vidarbha. Since January 2014, more than 400 farmers have committed suicide in Marathwada region, and the pace is picking up worryingly since the past month. Hydrological, meteorological and agricultural droughts are becoming more pronounced in Marathwada.

But can this be attributed to vagaries of nature alone?

A brief analysis of the underlying reasons for the crisis in Marathwada and its future implications:

Truant Monsoon of 2014

As per SANDRP’s analysis of district-wise rainfall figures of Marathwada in monsoon 2014, the picture which arises is dismal:

GRaph

For 2014, departure from normal rainfall for 6 out of 8 districts in Marathwada was more than 40% and rest two districts it was more than 50%, indicating a huge reduction in rainfall. However, contrary to what is being stated in the media, the region received satisfactory rainfall in 2013 monsoon. In fact, 6 districts of the 8 received more than 100% of normal rains and remaining two districts received 88% and 95% of normal rains last year. This is one of the reasons that the reservoir storage in 2014 did not fall as sharply as they did in 2012-13 drought. On 15th October 2014, Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad had 42% Live storage, which was more than October 2013 storage of 33% and 2012, when it had reached dead storage already (http://www.mahawrd.org/). The entire Marathwada region too showed large reservoir storage of 47%, which is not extremely alarming.

Significantly, 2012-13 drought also unfolded in a similar manner, with highly satisfactory monsoons of 2011.

At the same time, the region is facing one of the worst droughts in recent history today.

This seemingly contradictory situation underlines a number of things, most important being: large dams do not automatically equate with water in farmers’ fields. Work on many projects (most projects in Marathwada) is incomplete ( for example: canals of projects like Lower Dudhana, Jayakwadi Phase II, etc), while contractors and politicians have made a pretty packet from the contracts, many projects are ‘evaporation machines’ than a water supply systems, without canals and distributaries or systems to govern water management. The available impounded water is a valuable political tool, and is used as such. Water allocation and management is far from being sustainable, transparent and accountable.

Projects under the jurisdiction of Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation

Projects under the jurisdiction of Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation

According to news reports, in the past 11 months, 454 farmers only in Marathwada[1] have committed suicide due to number of reasons, most linked to crop failure and debt. Strikingly, after late November 2014, 52 farmers committed suicides mainly from Beed, Nanded and Osmanabad regions.

District Number of farmer suicides since January 2014
 1. Beed 122
 2. Nanded 104
 3. Osmanabad 54
 4. Parbhani 49
 5. Aurangabad 40
 6. Jalna 22
 7. Hingoli 29
 8. Latur 34

The issue has been raised in the Winter Assembly by the enthusiastic opposition and the CM is yet to announce a drought relief package. It is expected to be close to 8000-9000 Crores or more.

At the same time, there is a huge tussle going on between Nashik and Nagar on one hand and Marathwada on the other, for waters Godavari which originates in Western Ghats flows through Northern Maharahstra and then becomes the lifeline of Marathwada region. Nashik and Ahmednagar have constructed slew of large dams on Godavari and have always been reluctant to release water for Jayakwadi dam in Aurangabad in the downstream. We saw this episode flaring up last year and we are seeing an action replay this year as the HC has ordered immediate release of water from upstream dams for Jayakwadi. (See:http://indiatogether.org/share-environment). (Notably, this is the first time I have witnessed that the Dam Storages data of www.mahawrd.org, the official website of the Water Resources Department is not updated with weekly Dam Storage Levels. This had not happened even at the peak of 2013-12 Drought. Our queries to WRD on this front have been unanswered till date.)

WRD officials and administration have taken cautious stand and water in reservoirs is now reserved mainly for drinking water purposes, any release in downstream for irrigation is being delayed and is being made only after strong negotiations, badly hitting rabi cultivation, which is already less than last year.

Even as conflicts flare up, protests rage and assembly is disrupted, sugarcane crushing goes on unhindered in Marathwada, in whopping 61 Sugar factories!

On the unfortunate and expected lines, the government has not said a word about restricting cane crushing in Marathwada this year, which itself guzzles massive amounts of water, apart from cane cultivation. On the other hand, the party president, Amit Shah himself attended first crushing day of some factories (one of which was reportedly captured by relatives of a BJP MLA by fraud![2])

A look at sugarcane cultivation and crushing season so far in Marathwada:

(All data obtained by SANDRP from Sugar Commissionarate, Maharashtra Government, December 2014)

Area under sugarcane in Marathwada in 2013-14 and Sugar factories

District Area under sugarcane (in hectares) Number of Sugar factories
1. Aurangabad 15,373 9
2. Jalna 11,083 5
3. Beed 27,299 10
4. Parbhani 25,567 6
5. Hingoli 18,037 3
6. Nanded 28,057 9
7. Osmanbad 43,635 16
8. Latur 61,479 12
TOTAL 2,30,530 Hectares 61 Factories
TOTAL SUGARCANE CULTIVATED IN MARATHWADA FOR CRUSHING 154.28 Lakh Tonnes  

So around 61 sugar factories will crush 154.28 Lakh Tonnes Cane in a period when drought is so bad that water will not be released from reservoirs for irrigation!

In doing so, the factories will use a minimum of 1500 litres of water to crush one tonne of cane. To crush 154.28 lakh tonnes, minimum amount of water used will be: 23,142,000,000 Litres or 23.1 Million Cubic Meters. This is the lowest estimate.

This amount would be sufficient to irrigate nearly 8,000 acres of high yielding groundnut, more of Jowar or can be sufficient for drinking water needs of nearly 15 lakh 85 thousand people[3] till the onset of 2015 monsoon!

This water will be used till the end of crushing season when the drought will be extremely severe if we look at current indices.

Is there a justification of doing so? Will a 10,000 Crore drought package come close to ameliorating the impact of water loss at the peak of drought?

In addition, the pollution control mechanism of most sugar factories is pathetic. Pollution Control Board has raised this number of times. Uncontrolled water and soil pollution by sugar factories will additionally pollute groundwater and water bodies, further affecting water security of the region.

This water may be sourced from dams and groundwater. SANDRP has witnessed in 2012-13drought, sugar factories in Marathwada, mainly Osmanabad region lifted water from dams even when water levels had dipped below dead storage. What will be the impact of this siphoning on local drinking water security?

We should not forget that one of the costliest political lesson for NCP came when Ajit Pawar uttered extremely insulting remarks on dry reservoirs, mocking people’s plight. This was in context of a protest by a lone farmer from Mohol, urging water for drinking, even as sugar factories on Mohol used lakhs of litres of water when the farmer, Prabhakar Deshmukh, was fasting in Mumbai! Needless to say, the ruling party’s defeat was sealed through such acts. (More about Sugarcane in Solapur here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/why-solapur-sugarcane-and-sustainability-do-not-rhyme/)

Even in terms of groundwater, Marathwada region has literally touched rock bottom. In a report by GSDA (Groundwater Survey and Development Agency) submitted to Government of Maharashtra,[4] it has been reported that in 249 villages of Marathwada, abstraction has been 100% and there is no more water to draw. Not surprisingly, the regions suffering largest groundwater problems are surrounded by sugarcane and sugarcane factories.

In the past too, SANDRP has underlined how sugarcane in drought affected areas contributed to worsening drought of 2012-13. Then Solapur was in crisis.  This year, the district which has 28 sugar factories two years back has 34 sugar factories!

All government announcements about bringing sugarcane under drip have remained on paper and sugarcane continues to rule the drought politics of the region, regardless of the political party. In fact, the Cooperation Minister BJP Government Chadrakant Patil has announced that the only clause which has been limiting further sugar factory rush (of having a minimum aerial distance of 15-25 kms between two factories[5]),  can be diluted “ to promote healthy competition”. 200 factories are lined up for licenses with the Sugar Commissionarate!  There is no thought about the impact of this decision on water profile of Maharashtra.

This defies logic. The work of Winter Assembly was disrupted several times yesterday (10th December 2014) by aggressive opposition asking for an immediate drought package for Marathwada and Vidarbha. How can a 4,000 or 10,000 Crore Drought Package address these systemic issues? How can this package address siphoning off water from a drought hit region in peak drought? The opponents are happy discussing help to sugar factories for drought relief, not raising any points about impending impacts of crushing cane in drought.

In the long term, there is a need to reduce area under sugarcane and provide proper incentives, fair support price, forward and backward market linkages and support for initiatives like horticulture under drip (and there are several success stories from Marathwada on this), dairying, oil seed and pulses cultivation and processing, dryland farming and importantly, equitable and transparent water management involving all farmers in the region, not restricted to a few.

It is high time that long term decisions are taken in order to make Marathwada truly drought proof and free from clutches of ‘drought packages’ and opportunistic politics, year after year. A start can be made by restricting cane crushing in the region immediately.

-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

End Notes:

Marathwada Farmers need Water: http://72.78.249.126/Agrowon/20141013/5520233630699177815.htm

SANDRP Analysis on water issues in Maharashtra:

Open Letter to Devendra Fadnavis: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/open-letter-to-devendra-fadnavis/

Why Solapur, Sugar and Sustainability do not rhyme: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/why-solapur-sugarcane-and-sustainability-do-not-rhyme

[1] http://www.esakal.com/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsId=5611377824684291267

[2] http://www.loksatta.com/mumbai-news/bjp-leaders-closed-try-to-take-over-controle-on-sugar-factory-in-paithan-1049861/

[3] @ 80 litres per capita per day

[4] http://www.loksatta.com/maharashtra-news/no-rain-in-marathwada-1047256/

[5] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/maharashtra-likely-to-abolish-25-km-limit-between-two-sugar-units-114112300348_1.html

Further work on SANDRP on Drought, Maharashtra and Sugarcane can be found in Category: Maharashtra

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