With Maharashtra staring in the face of one of the biggest water crisis in recent decades, a law and order problem has arisen in the parched Marathwada region, threatening to snowball into social conflict.
Last week, the police were called in to deploy and organise tankers under their protection after furious residents of Dongargaon village refused water supply from their dam to nearby Latur city. Eleven villages, including Dongargaon, are denying the city water from the Dongargaon dam, justifying the move on grounds that their plight was no better.
Eventually, a team of 25 water tankers, under the vigilant eye of the police were pressed into service to draw water from the dam and ferry it to Latur. In September last year, Latur’s residents received water supply barely once a month.
“If drought is declared again this year, it will be hydrological in nature and not a meteorological one,” says Prof. H.M. Desarda, economist and former member, Maharashtra State Planning Board.
A string of bad rainfall years coupled with bureaucratic myopia have resulted in a systemic failure with the ravages of indiscriminate urbanisation wreaking havoc with the groundwater table of Western Maharashtra, which traditionally receives heavy rainfall.
In the 540-odd villages across 13 talukas in Pune district, the groundwater levels have alarmingly plummeted to 1 m, as per a recent report by the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency (GSDA). In more than 100 of these villages showed depletion of the water groundwater level to more than 3 m.
This acute water scarcity has stunted the growth of the Rabi crop with eight of the 12 Tehsils of Pune district reporting 40 per cent less than their normal sowing.
“The government has failed to develop durable social assets in the form of micro-water sheds. The only solution to avert catastrophe is to stop all non-essential uses of water and direct it only for drinking purposes,” Prof. Desarda said.
Last Thursday, Pune Mayor Prashant Jagtap’s vaunt that the city would not face any increase in water cuts met with bitter irony and scepticism among activists and citizens, given the fact that Marathwada’s present woes have a direct bearing on the water supply in Pune district and its neighbouring areas.
The State Government’s intentions to divert water from Pune’s dams to parched areas like Latur mean imminent water cuts for the city’s residents, contrary to the Mayor’s assurances.
“This year, we must bear in mind that many parts of the State are facing grave water cuts and that each district must help others to overcome it,” said Pune Guardian Minister Girish Bapat.
The primary bone of contention in water disposition is the 6.77 TMC water left in the Bhama Askhed dam in Khed taluka in Pune district.
The urban areas of Pune, Solapur and Daund, have staked claim on this precious stock of water, while the State Government has hinted that it might supply arid Latur and other parts of water-bereft Marathwada with this reserve stock.