Marathwada in Maharashtra on the verge of desertification, say water experts

May 23, 2019 3:52 PM |

Several economists and those who had warned of desertification of  Marathwada, are blaming ‘policy-induced failure’ for the ongoing water crisis in Maharashtra.

In the words of Prof. H.M. Desarda, economist and former member of the Maharashtra State Planning Board, ‘It is the failure of policy makers and the selfishness of those in power, who are responsible for forcing Marathwada farmers for implying a crop pattern that does not complement the present agricultural climate of the region'.

‘In fact, successive governments need to be blamed for mismanagement of water resources. Moreover, incessant water mining had resulted in the depletion of groundwater table in Marathwada’, he further said

Also read: No relief from sweltering weather in Mumbai for some more time

Data reveals that, out of 76 talukas in eight districts of Marathwada, around 50 received 300 mm of rainfall previous year. That implies to 3 million litres of water per hectare. Taking an average population density in Marathwada- 300 per square kilometer, the water was sufficient to fulfill the basic drinking water needs and meeting basic household needs. In fact, the left over was enough for atleast one crop.

The data by the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency had revealed that the water table had witnessed a steep drop in 70 of the 76 talukas. Out of which more than 25 talukas had recorded a drop of more than two metres.

Agro- climate characteristics

The crop pattern of Marathwada had largely changed in the last few years, says Prof. Desarda. ‘Earlier, cereal and oilseeds were the main cultivated crops. These crops had resulted in moisture harvesting. However, at present, soybean and Bt Cotton are the predominant crops, that cover more than 80% of the region’s 50 lakh hectares of cultivable land’, he further said.

Moreover, sugarcane, that consumes 4% of the total cultivable land, requires 80% of the water resources.

‘The process of desertification has already begun in Marathwada’, says Pradeep Purandare, a former associate professor at the Aurangabad-based Water and Land Management Institute.The only way to sort this out is to prohibit sugarcane cultivation.

Political scenario

Sugarcane was considered as a ‘political crop’, a powerful method for retaining the voters, as used by several political elites. 50 out of 200 sugar factories in the state are situated in Marathwada, says Prof. Desarda.

Adding to this statement, Mr Purandare revealed that, more than 40 sugarcane factories were operational, despite the ever increasing water crisis.

This year, in January, several areas of Latur faced acute water shortage. The situation became so worse that the region was supplied water only once in 12 days. To overcome this situation, water was borrowed from other areas by diverting resources from Manjara dam- a major source of water for sugar mills in Marathwada.

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