Drought in Maharashtra: A Man-made Disaster


The state of Maharashtra in the western region of India is facing its worst drought so far as claimed by the Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar and the Chief Minister of state, Prithviraj Chavan. 40 years ago, the state was in the similar situation when the drought led to a famine. Fears of famine are imminent this time around too.

However, according to the recent data published by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) on a comparative analysis of the water situation in 1972 and 2012 in Maharashtra, the drought is a result of an inadequate and corrupt water management but not poor rainfall as rationalized by the state authorities.

Measuring the rainfall

Having the largest number of dams in the country, the state of Maharashtra is still facing the worst drought in four decades despite having spent millions on irrigation projects and having numerous water management institutions in the state.

According to SANDRP, the current drought is not a natural calamity like the one in 1972 as a comparative analysis of the rainfall figures in 1972 and 2012 shows that only in case of two districts (Sangli and Dhule) is the 2012 rainfall substantially lower than 1972. Also in Jalna and Dhule districts, the rainfall is lower than 1972 but the difference is less than 7% in total.

The comparison of the rainfall in the two years clearly indicates that the lack of rainfall is not the reason for the drought but its availability is. ‘The blame for this lies entirely on wrong decisions about building unviable and undesirable large dams, wrong cropping patterns, diversion of water for non priority uses, neglect of local water systems and unaccountable water management by the Maharashtra government, MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority, set up in 2005 under a World Bank funded programme) as well as the Union Government.’, says SANDRP.

Where is the water going?

Since 1972, Maharashtra has built large number of dams to help the drought prone areas of the region. However, the water storage in these dams today is negligible and to no avail for the people who are affected by the drought. The sheer number of dams has not increased the water supply in the areas or led to any kind of relief.

Most of these dams where not built before 1972 and the situation now is far worse than before. Where is all the water diverted to if there has been enough rainfall in the state this year?

The precarious state of water in the state can be blamed on the increasing area under sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra.  Mostly all the drought affected districts are the major producers of sugar, collectively producing 79.5% of the total sugar produced in the state and a quarter of the country’s total sugar produce with 35.3 %.

Despite knowing the possibility of a drought, the planting of sugarcane was done in the drought affected areas in early 2012 and sugar industries owned by politicians are being sanctioned without any objection from the state government.

The Maharashtra government has turned a blind eye towards curbing the sugarcane plantations or other water intensive activities like operating sugar and wine factories in the drought affected districts.

Meanwhile the real estate builders continue to exploit the land further by coming up with massive construction projects in drought affected areas. These luxurious projects often target the elite who prefer large swimming pools in their backyards. And to top it all, the Indian premier league, which is the country’s most popular Cricket tournament, is going to be held in Maharashtra this month.

While political voices have been raised over the tournament’s feasibility in the drought affected state, the key player in the sugar empire as well as in the IPL administration, NCP leader and politician, Sharad Pawar is yet to show any recourse on the severe drought in his state.

The uneven distribution of water in the state might soon take a negative turn and cause a war over water if the matter is not addressed immediately. The cost of water has also increased significantly in the drought affected areas due to the lack of availability and adequate transportation.

The Maharashtra government cannot neglect the drought any further as the possibility of a famine is very much real and already thousands of people from the drought affected areas are losing their livelihood as their cattle and crops are being destroyed when the water is utilized only for the people in power.

Author: Pari Trivedi

Photo: Wandering Gnome