Indiscriminate use of groundwater is the bane of Latur

In this concluding part on the drought in Latur, Sharad Vyas (text) and Vivek Bendre (photographs) look at the reasons for the current crisis

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:45 pm IST

Published - April 19, 2016 01:26 am IST - LATUR:

Every district in Marathwada has a ‘borewell man’, so does Latur. Harish Chandra Yerme holds the dubious distinction of having dug 63 borewells on his 40-acre Mosambi farm, some as deep as 1,000 feet even though the norms permit only 200 feet.

“These have been sunk over 10 years, and half of them are not even working. It was needed to keep the farm going in this non-irrigated belt,” says caretaker Shankar Dusnale.

The indiscriminate use of groundwater has been the bane of Latur. The number of irrigation borewells in Latur stood at 34,778 in 2007, only second after Nashik at 37,545.

As per groundwater rules, there can be only five borewell per square kilometre. This simply means, in an ideal situation, the 715 sq km of the 10 talukas should have only 3,575 bores. But the unofficial number is 90,000.

“People are not reporting these to save electricity and avoid action. This mentality of digging bores must change,” cautions MS Sheikh, in charge of the local groundwater survey and development agency (GSDA).

A 2012 GDSA report warned of over-withdrawal of groundwater in Latur and Osmanabad, “attributing to the water intensive cash crop like Sugarcane, Banana, Grapes and Oranges, which are mostly groundwater dependent”. However, even after knowing the disadvantages of irrigation borewell — low dependability of yield, low discharge and recuperation rate — farmers were still opting for it, the report said.

“Latur was never a water-sufficient zone, and the sugarcane should have never been grown here without drip irrigation. It is one of the main reasons for the scarcity. But a powerful sugar lobby kept getting incentives from the government, while oilseeds and pulses got no encouragement,” explains Ashok Bhutada, chairman of Kirti Agro Limited, a leading dealer in soyabean.

Part 1: >The circle of economy, the cycle of drought

Sugarcane, the fall guy

The growing feeling is that sugarcane’s commodity cycle has to end. While cane farmers are being offered unattractive rates by loss-making sugar factories, there has been a rise in rates of soyabean and pulses currently trading at Rs 4,500 and Rs 9,500 a quintal.

However, Lalitbhai Shah, chairman of the Latur APMC, says, “Yes, it consumes more water, but if we don’t have it then the entire western Latur economy will collapse. Why is everyone trying to enlighten the farmer, the message to grow or not grow a crop must come to him from the market.”

The charge against sugarcane is it guzzles over 2,000 mm water in a year, forcing farmers to sink borewells. Initially, factory owners too did not promote drip irrigation. But Yashwant Rao Patil, former chairman of Raina Sugar Cooperative, says “Nearly 60 per cent of the crop our factory promoted was with drip irrigation. Blaming sugarcane that had an annual economy of Rs 1,000 crore and improved the lives of farmers is a bit unfair.”

Poor water governance

When the ‘water express’ chugged into Latur city last week with 5,00,000 litres, people hoped it would solve the city’s crisis where a population of 4,00,000 has been living without tap water for the past 50 days.

But residents say supply has been erratic for the past year, with the “poorer” parts getting water once every 25 days while some “better-off” areas getting it every fortnight.

Administrative failure

The network of 70 tankers distributing 5 MLD water daily is at the mercy of the local corporator who obviously pushes for more tankers for his constituency.

“The problem is that the drought mentality comes back to haunt us again with several schemes and rejuvenation plans put in place after a crisis, but it is forgotten as soon as monsoon arrives. There seems to be no concrete planning on harvesting and reuse of water,” says water conservation expert and resident of Savewadi, Amol Govande.

The district administration has undertaken several works and water schemes with the help of non-profit organisations, including promotion of roof water harvesting, magic pits, and rejuvenation of borewells. But it is yet to completely reduce distribution losses and theft in the local supply chain.

The administration is yet to install water meters in most households even when taps have been provided in 50 per cent homes under centrally funded Amrut Yojna.

“The mentality is to lift water from big dams instead of adopting short-term conservation measures. It is the same mindset that is now forcing them (administration) to say we will lift water from Ujni and Majalgaon dam to meet future needs. For people like us, there is little option but to shut business,” said local ST (State Transport) canteen contractor Krishna Rao, who says maintaining a business with additional dependence on tankers is forcing many to shut shop.


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