Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, Oct 26, 2003

Monsoon failure worsens crisis

By Kalpana Sharma

Water is a scarce commodity in Darfal village,
Marathwada. — Photo: Kalpana Sharma

OSMANABAD OCT. 25. The monsoon has just ended. But there are hundreds of villages and small towns without any water in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Where it rained, people will survive the coming summer. In the many areas where the monsoon failed, for the second or third year, the prospect of summer is already raising the temperature even as the first whiff of winter fills the morning air.

People this correspondent spoke to in three scattered villages in Osmanabad district in the drought-prone Marathwada area said "water" was their biggest problem. "No matter how many borewells we have, we still have no water," said Narmadadevi, an ex-sarpanch from Darfal village in Osmanabad taluk. Her village of 500 households, sports two overhead tanks built by the Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran, an agency contracted by the State Government to supply piped water to the village. But the tanks are dry. There is no water in the borewells from which the water is supposed to be pumped up to the tanks. Everyone has taps but for the last one year, no water has flowed through them.

One of the two borewells that still functions (there are five that have no water) yields a thin trickle. A typical row of pots extends from the pump. An old woman waits patiently for her steel bucket to fill up. She will have to wait for at least half-an-hour. "I put my pot in the line at five this morning," one woman says, "I will be lucky if I can get one pot of water by 1.30 this afternoon."

The situation in Darfal village is but one illustration of the looming water crisis that significant parts of Maharashtra face. According to senior officials, five districts in Maharashtra are severely affected by water shortage already — Osmanabad, Beed, Solapur, Satara and Sangli — and parts of Pune district. Water is likely to be one of the important political issues in the State.

The chief executive officer of the zilla parishad of Osmanabad district, Yashwant Kerure, admits that his district is in trouble. "For three years we have had less than average rainfall," he says. "The water levels have declined by as much as 4.5 metres in the worst-affected taluka — Paranda." The average rainfall this year in the district, which consists of 737 villages and 128 habitats distributed over 8 talukas, was just 57.25 per cent.

As a result, the Government has had to supply water by tankers to 232 villages and 54 habitats since May. These are villages without any source of water within a radius of 1.5 km. The water is being sourced from private borewells. The Government has requisitioned 521 private borewells or open wells and pays the owners Rs. 100 per day. But even these sources are beginning to dry up. All over the State, 5,000 villages are being supplied with water from tankers.

Worse still is the position of the water levels in the irrigation dams in the district. Osmanabad district has 17 medium and 120 minor irrigation projects. But as of September 6, 2003, they had a live storage of just 1.57 per cent. Dams such as the Manzra dam in Dhanegaon have been dry for the last three or four years.

Even the Makni dam on the Terna river is dry this year, says Mr. Kerure.

In the cities, the situation is not much better. Osmanabad town gets water only every 15 days. On December 6, 2002, the tank that was supposed to supply 50 per cent of the water to the city went dry, says Mr. Kerure.

Despite having spent Rs. 19,000 crores over the last 43 years on rural water supply, a major part of Maharashtra is water-starved. It is partly in response to this intractable problem that the State Government has signed up with the World Bank for a $181-million loan for the Jalswarajya Project that will hand over the powers of decision-making on water-related issues to gram panchayats.