Latur Dries Up thanks to a Short-sighted Water Policy

Written by Parineeta Dandekar | Published on: May 1, 2016

Folly of concentrating Sugar Industries in Drought prone Latur

Photo Credit: Parineeta Dandekar

On the 16th of January 2016, when Latur City in the heart of Marathwada was receiving drinking water once in 15 days and when plans of bringing water from Ujani Dam, about 300 kms away were being mulled upon, I was standing on the wall of the Lower Terna Reservoir in Osmanabad, about 40 kms from Latur. The dam has been at dead storage for the past 3 years. There are a string of jackwells inside the dam, to take water to rural drinking water supply schemes in Osmanabad and Latur for Nilanga, Killari and recently Ausa in Latur and Makani and Omerga in Osmanabad.

Water Filtration System which is supposed to supply drinking water to 14 villages in Osmanabad lies defunct for years, even as the Revenue Minister inaugurated a brand new system for Latur City. Villages supposed to receive water from the dead stock stay thirsty. This is also the same Lower Terna Dam from where water is being taken for the Latur city in tankers now.

The dam had a Jackwell of a renowned Sugar Factory which directly took water from the dam’s dead storage. I asked about this to the dam officials present on the site. They supported this “Industries have reservations and need to be given water”. The Sugar Factory has a reservation of about 0.5 Million Cubic Meters of water, that is a whopping 5000 lakh litres of water in the driest months… Compare this with the exuberance of political parties and administration at securing a train which carries 5 lakh litres of water. In reality such reservations hold force only with respect to Live Storage and when a dam is at Dead Storage, first priority has to be given to drinking water.

These uses by sugar factory from dead storage were not stopped by the Collector of either Latur or Osmanabad districts when under the Scarcity Act, the Collector had all the powers to secure drinking water supply sources. In fact, it is one of the Collector’s main responsibilities.The current drought is as much about a drought of transparent and equitable water allocation policy, as it is about failing monsoon and plummeting groundwater levels and Latur crisis highlights this issue amply.

The Water Train arrived in Latur on 12th April, carrying 5 lakh litres of water for the more than 400,000 people of Latur City. Both Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti and the Maharashtra government are taking pride in achieving this train for Latur, when it should have been option of last resort, and could be eminently avoidable if prior and planned actions required were taken at least since Sept 2015 when the huge rainfall and hydrological deficit in addition to agricultural calamity for rainfed farmers was clear.

The water train comes all the way from Meeraj, on the banks of Krishna River in the prosperous Western Maharashtra… but today, Krishna as she flows down to Karnataka, is a parched and poor river and Karnataka is clamouring for more water in Krishna from Maharashtra for its dry regions.

Photo Credit: Bhim Singh Rawat

As India faces one of its biggest droughts since Independence, such stories and surrounding conflicts are the new normal. Especially for Marathwada, a region which received 42% deficit rainfall in 2014 and 40% in 2015. Before settling at 40% deficit in 2015, Marathwada showed the highest deficit in the country at 52% for a long time during monsoon 2015.

In 2015, Latur which is now in the eye of the storm, received less than 50% of its average monsoon rainfall: mere 361 mm as against monsoon average 723mm. In July 2015, Latur received an unbelievably low rainfall of 28 mm as against the July average of 192.7 mm and had mere 2 rainy days. In 2014 too, monsoon rain was just above the 50%  mark. It is interesting to note that Solapur received much lesser rainfall than Latur, just 193.9 mm in the monsoon months and although it is not without serious scarcity problems, its drinking