Marathwada, a region known more for its routine and severe droughts in the recent years, now showing the highest rainfall deficit in the country at 48%.
Marathwada (which coincides with Aurangabad Division of Maharashtra) consists of 8 districts in the heart of Maharashtra: Aurangabad, Beed, Latur, Osmanabad, Parbhani, Jalna, Nanded and Hingoli.
The region has a population of about 1.87 Crores and a geographical area of 64.5 Thousand sq. kms. Nearly the entire region, barring parts of Beed, Latur and Osmanabad, falls in Godavari basin. This has historically been a rain shadow region with average rainfall of about 700 mm, but in districts like Beed, it dips down to 600 mm. Apart from Godavari, no major rivers originate or flow through Marathwada except rivers like Purna, Shivna, Dudhna, Velganga, Sindhphana, Bindusara, etc. These are modest rivers, which carry little water as the harsh summer approaches. This is unlike Vidarbha (to the east of Marathwada) which has mighty rivers like Penganga, Wainganga, Wardha etc., or Khandesh and Western Maharashtra to its north and west, which have bigger rivers, denser watersheds and more rainfall.
Since the past 4 years, Marathwada has been facing exceptionally cruel weather. June-September Monsoon, which is the lifeline of most of this rainfed region, has been playing truant. Last year, the region experienced highest rainfall deficit in the past 10 years at -42%. In two districts it was much more than 40%, leading to a severe water crisis. To give you an example, the JJAS (June, July, August, and September) rainfall in Parbhani in 2014 was just 346 mm, barely 4 mm more than rainfall during the horrifying 1971 drought! These two are the lowest rainfall figures for Parbhani since 1902, for more than 113 years!
This is compounded by the fact that for the month of July this year (main month of Kharif sowing) Parbhani has received an unbelievable 24.2 mm rainfall which is 88.6% below its average July rainfall of 210.8 mm. Looking at the rainfall figures, I suspect that Marathwada has received historically lowest rainfall for the month of July this year. The impact of all this on a rainfed farmer has been catastrophic and nearly all of Marathwada practices rainfed farming due to natural condition and historic inequity meted out to the region.
In addition to the dismal rainfall, Marathwada, like the neighboring Vidarbha, has been battered by unseasonal rainfall and hailstorms in 2013 and 2014 in February, March and November, destroying Rabi plantations. For example, Ausa Taluk (Administrative block) in Latur District of Marathwada received 146% of its highest recorded rainfall and higher than 100 year recorded rainfall in March 2014, within a matter of days, destroying standing crops.
One of the most tragic consequences of these interrelated issues is mounting farmers’ suicides in the region. In the six months between January-June 2015, at least 418 farmers in Marathwada have committed suicide. And the absentee monsoon is making problems more acute.
Politicians are making a beeline to the region like they have been making in the past, looking for very political brownie points, as are news channels, Central Drought Inspection Panels and bore rig owners reminding one of Everybody Loves a Good Drought.
Marathwada’s recurring strife is a touchstone for the advanced universities, weather prediction institutes like IMD, NGOs, researchers, agricultural colleges and departments, water management professionals etc., around the country. What measures, whether policy, governance, infrastructural or managerial, can help this region which is repeatedly facing misery and strife? What are the root causes of these problems? Are they all only weather-related? Is there anything that is worsening the meteorological crisis? Are we responding to the challenge amply? Are we deploying state of art technology, resources and governance mechanisms to address the issues of this region? How best can we help in this situation now?
The beginning can be made with a snapshot of the current picture of Marathwada and neighboring regions in light of the dismal Monsoon so far.
Rainfall: After a satisfactory June 2015 rainfall of about 81%, Kharif crop sowing (monsoon plantation: rainfed and not irrigated) was undertaken by farmers on approximately 33 lakh hectares of the region. Main crops were cotton, soyabean, pulses and some limited oilseeds. Most of the sugarcane (Yes, Marathwada is a major sugarcane cultivator) was already planted in October-November 2014. The satisfactory rains were indeed welcome as compared to last year. In 2014, the June rainfall was barely 20% of the normal.
But satisfactory June rainfall this year was not a boon. Although it led to record Kharif crop sowing, almost all of this is lost in face of extended dry spell that lasted nearly all of July. July rains in the region were dismal with about 75% and more deficit. In August too, this spell has continued, not only drying up Kharif, but also putting farmers in dilemma: Should they undertake second cropping for Kharif in the expectation of rain, or keep fields fallow for Rabi planation? That dilemma is partly solved by now as the time window for almost all of Kharif planting, except some Bajra, is already past. Kharif crop is almost lost for Marathwada.
Last year too Kharif crop was severely affected in the region due to delayed onset of 2014 Monsoon which meant losses for more than a million farmers. More farmers suffered losses following October 2014 and Feb-March 2015 unseasonal rains and hailstorms. As expected, the official compensation is yet to reach many of the farmers.
Reservoir Storage So far, the overall large reservoir storage for the whole of Marathwada has come down to 442 MCM (Million Cubic Meters), which is just 9% of its Live Storage of 11 large dams in the region. Even for Medium projects, live storage in 75 medium projects is 79 MCM, just 8% of live storage capacity. Of the 11 large projects, live storage of 5 projects is now 0. These are Manjra, Mazalgao, Seena Kolegaon, Lower Terna and Purna Siddheshwar. The Live Storage of the largest dam in the region Jayakwadi is just 5%, Purna Yeldari is 3% and Manar is 3%.
Significantly, last year, on 12th of August, 2014, all these five dams were also at 0 live storage. But things were slightly better then. Jayakwadi was then at 16% Live Storage (as against just 5% now) and the total storage of large projects was 23%, as against 9% now (1189 MCM as against 442 MCM now). Even with a slightly better picture, farmers in Marathwada were in a very poor state last year. This year seems to be equally, if not more problematic.
At the same time it needs to be remembered that Marathwada has one of the most poorly developed irrigation systems in the state ( which itself has lowest percentage of irrigated area in the country). Of the 50.3 Lakh hectares of culturable area, irrigation potential has been created for barely 10.5 lakh hectares, ie. 17.7% of the culturable area. Only a 4.4 lakh hectares, 8.7% of culturable area is actually irrigated. Out of this a minimum of 2.5 Lakh hectares is under sugarcane. That means barely 1.9 lakh hectares of the 50.3 lakh hectares is irrigated for crops other than sugarcane! Going by the state averages, about 70% of this area would irrigated by groundwater and NOT surface water, which means dams irrigate a miniscule part of the region.
On Aug 11, 2015, the Revenue Minister of Maharashtra Eknath Khadse announced that serious measures are now being adopted to tackle the rainfall deficit in Marathwada. The cabinet subcommittee formed to address the impending drought problem has made some announcements which include setting up cattle camps, reserving water in dams for drinking water purposes on priority and not for agriculture and industries. Possibility of deploying trains to supply drinking water is also mentioned.
In the neighboring Solapur, Ujani Dam has reached 0% Live Storage which was at a very comfortable 53% last year at the same time. The Minister says that if needed, trains will be deployed to send water to Marathwada from Pandharpur which is just downstream of Ujani. But with Ujani itself at a 0% live storage, the question is, where will Pandharpur get its water from.
Groundwater The Groundwater levels in the region had reached alarming levels early this year itself. The entire region sits above impermeable basaltic strata and there are limitations to groundwater extraction. In as many as 247 villages, groundwater draft has exceeded recharge to such an extent that the aquifer has gone completely dry. According to wells monitored by GSDA, in all districts of Marathwada, the trend is steeply falling groundwater as compared to 5 year averages. In some parts (Basmat taluk, Hingoli District) the fall is over 7 meters of the 5 year averages!
|No.||District||Number of Critical or overexploited watersheds||Total Villages affected|
Above: Comparison of groundwater levels in Marathwada districts with 2012 and change from 5 year averages Source: Indian Express, based on GSDA data. Currently, there is no regulation of groundwater: whether for limiting draft or for encouraging recharge.
Although the road ahead is uncertain and tough and there are no quick fixes, some quick steps are needed to be taken now. Some of these are complementary to long term drought proofing works for the region.
- Immediately stopping Westward Water diversion from Tata Dams: Tata Hydropower Dams, at the origin of the Mula-Mutha sub-basin of Bhima basin, have been diverting water of the Bhima Basin to water surplus Konkan for the past century for power generation. Such water transfer from a water-deficit basin like Bhima-Krishna to water surplus basin like Konkan, in such a terrible drought is reprehensible. The hydropower stations of Khopoli, Bhivpuri and Bhira together transferred more than 136.64 MCM water just in about five weeks between 1 July-6th August 2015.
Even now (Aug 17), the dams associated with the projects which are Mulshi, Andra, Walvan, Shiravata, Thokarwadi, Vadivale are storing 620 MCM of water, which is 55% of its capacity.
This water stored in Tata dams rightfully belongs to Bhima basin and if it is released, it can directly come to Ujani Reservoir, raising it from current 0% live storage. The water from here then can be taken to Beed and Osmanabad in Marathwada through pipelines already in place for drinking water supply. Through the Bhima-Seena Link Tunnel, it can flow into Seena River and can be used by bordering parts of Marathwada and Solapur District for drinking water, provided it is possible to ensure that it does not get used up for sugarcane and sugar factories. Very strict restrictions on the proper use of this water based on priorities of drinking water and livelihood agriculture have to be maintained. This will have to be ensured by communities, block level, Tehsil level elected representatives and officials and the Divisional Commissioner.
Section 11 of the Electricity Act of 2003 gives legal powers to the government to change the operation of any power project in response to various situations, which includes “Natural calamity”. Severe drought indeed qualifies as Natural calamity. The government should urgently stop diversion of water from Tata dams from the Bhima basin.
Former Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar recently toured Marathwada to understand the drought scenario and in his address talked about “diverting west flowing rivers to the east for Marathwada.” Before attempting anything like that, we can simply secure that east flowing rivers flow to the east, at least in drought situations!
- Stop new sugarcane cultivation: Unbelievable as it may sound, not only did Marathwada plant record sugarcane (a highly water intensive crop) on its very meagre water resources last year, it’s doing so this year too! According to Sugar Commissionarate, new cane plantations have taken place on more than 2 lakh hectares (2,06,777 hectares) in just 5 districts of the region (Nanded, Parbhani, Osmanabad, Latur and Hingoli). I have personally discussed this with the Assistant Sugar Commissioner of Nanded Division. This water guzzling cane was planted in Marathwada when it had received one of the lowest rainfalls in the entire century, knowing fully well that cane will continue to demand water during this monsoon and even after!
Assuming 187.5 lakh litres water per hectare cane as per the Price Policy for Sugarcane Report of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture (2014-15), this area under sugarcane needs 3877 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of water in the entire season and during the most critical season of October 2015-March 2016. In the monsoon months, sugarcane needs assured water to boost growth and sugar content. Water needed for crushing and due to pollution of water sources caused by sugar factories, is additional.
Where will this water come from?
This demand from sugarcane has already severely jeopardized the available groundwater and surface water resources which need to be safeguarded for drinking water supply and livelihood supporting crops needing least water. In addition, new cane may be planted in October-November 2015 which will need further water. This has been happening for the past many years in the region: This is the reason why dams like Lower Terna, Manjara and Mazalgao, Seena Kolegaon which are surrounded by sugar pockets, have been consistently at 0 Live Storage even in August for the past 3 years in a row!
The State Government and MWRRA need to urgently disincentivise this sugarcane cultivation, explore the possibility of compensating the existing sugarcane farmers in Marathwada and convince them to replace sugarcane with drought resistant Rabi crops and not diverting any irrigation water, including groundwater to it. Preferential treatment and a weak stand in front of the sugar lobby only means injustice and inequity towards a far greater number of farmers who do not get even protective irrigation for their crops as all our surface water resources, groundwater, political will and sympathies go only with sugarcane.
As is reported in today’s agricultural reports, cattle fodder is becoming a huge issue in Maharashtra and Marathwada, which is feeding dry sugarcane to the cattle in the absence of green fodder. There are about 50 lakh cattle in the region. The irony of cattle in camps sustaining on sugarcane is not lost on anyone.
- Releasing water from upstream Dams: Nashik, Nagar and Pune regions upstream of dams in Marathwada are in comparatively better condition than Marathwada. Dams in Nashik region like Gangapur (69% of Live Storage), Bhandardara (77% Live Stoarge), Nilwande (69% of Live Storage) have satisfactory storage levels. To avoid conflicts, a water sharing plan has to be made immediately and water released so that it maximizes benefits to crops and people. MWRRA is entrusted with this responsibility of equitable water sharing and it should not wait to perform its duty till October 31st. Spirit of the Act to address strife is more important in distress times than technicalities.
- Existing Projects in Marathwada need to be used optimally and transparently There is still about 442 MCM water in large projects and about 157 MCM water in medium and minor projects, smaller Local Sector and ZP tanks which are entirely unregulated may still hold some water.
Decisions need to be taken if any of this water should be released or allowed to be lifted by sugarcane irrigators, distilleries (e.g. Radico NV Distilleries), owned by the politicians from the ruling party. Marathwada holds 70% of Maharashtra’s brewing capacity for Beer. The Beer industries in Aurangabad use minimum of 35 million litres of water every day (MLD). This needs to stop immediately. By the admission of Beer manufacturers themselves, they can use treated water for their product and should do so immediately. Water to Parli Thermal Power Plant can be stopped as the current per unit power rates have dropped and the state can buy power from other states rather than spend its precious water on Parli TPP. Sugar Factories, Sugar cultivation, Distilleries and Wineries upstream of Jayakwadi in Nashik Division need to be temporarily restrained from using water at least until Rabi plantation is over in Marathwada and there is some satisfactory rainfall. They need to be prescribed a water quota above which water will not be released to them, this will also encourage more efficient processes in these water intensive industries.
- Urgent Groundwater Regulation All over Marathwada thousands of borewells are being sunk every month. The estimate is about 10,000 borewells per month in the region. This, coupled with concentrated irrigation to crops like Sugarcane is severely affecting water security now and for months to come. This needs to be regulated starting at community level and MWRRA should immediately take up its duty as the Groundwater Regulator as per the Groundwater Act of 2009. There are several issues to be addressed while doing this. We have tried to outline this here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/maharashtra-groundwater-authority-can-it-save-the-state-from-deep-trouble/.
The efforts of the government through watershed missions like Jal Yukta Shivar Yojana and watershed works through MGNREGA are indeed noteworthy.Funds should not be allocated to unviable schemes like Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Project. The KMLIS does not have water availability in order to transfer water to Marathwada. Working on storages in Marathwada, without securing water first is misleading the people of the region, in addition to spending thousands of crores of financial resources which can be used in a much better manner. There are many good avenues for the government to spend funds to help the water-scarce region and the state. Pouring public money down the drain for unviable projects is definitely not one of them.
Desperate times need desperate measures and wisdom of any government will be gauged on how it responded to an emerging crisis. Drought in Marathwada, if the rains continue to fail, promises to reach epic proportions. This is a result of compounding issues: natural as well as man-made. We still have time in our hands to plan and respond better. As we hope for good rains, we need to be equipped to deal with a water stressed situation, which is unfortunately not new either to Marathwada or Maharashtra.
Parineeta Dandekar, email@example.com, SANDRP
You may also like to see
 REPORT OF THE HIGH LEVEL COMMITTEE ON BALANCED REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT ISSUES IN MAHARASHTRA, 2013
 Table 10.9, HLC Report on Regional imbalance
 The Water Shed areas having more than 100 percent of exploitation and with the trend of diminishing ground water level are classified as ‘over exploited’ area. The water shed regions with 90-100 percent exploitation or the areas where either pre-monsoon or postmonsoon water levels have declining trend are classified as ‘critical’ areas. The areas with either pre-monsoon water levels with declining trend and 70-90 percent of ground water utilization are classified as ‘semi-critical’ areas. The areas with less than 70 percent exploitation and neither pre-monsoon nor post-monsoon water levels reflecting declining trend are deemed as ‘safe water shed areas’