Latur and the entire Marathwada region would face mass exodus of residents, if they are not supplied water from outside. Political parties are still busy playing games but people desperately need water and not drama
Due to consistent rain deficit for over four years, the entire Marathwada region is facing a severe water shortage. Latur in Marathwade region of Maharashtra is one of the districts where the state government has declared a drought. In fact, this time the situation is so grim that majority of resident from Latur would be forced to migrate, if water is not supplied to the city. During my recent visit, I spoke with several residents. Many of them said that migration is on their mind. Some local people and others who had come from outside for work, have already left the place. Pune is the most favourite destination.
Those who have their businesses may find it very difficult to move to other places. However, the salaried class is open to moving given how grim the situation is. Many people are waiting for the school examination. Latur is known as one of the biggest education hub in Maharashtra. Latur is known throughout Maharashtra for its "Latur Pattern" which throws up toppers year after year. Unfortunately, due to the drought, it may not remain an education hub over next few years.
Even the business in Latur is adversely affected due to water scarcity. Latur was developed as a trading hub nine decades ago. Being located at the centre of three states, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana, the city is major trading hub for soybean, groundnut, oils, tur dal and jaggery. However, during my visit, I saw empty roads in the mail market, known as Ganj Golai. My friends informed me that some of the shops are unable to make a transaction during the entire day.
At present, people are buying water, but it may also soon stop since there is no water left underground. Most of the bore wells have dried up despite reaching a depth of over 500 feet. Few, which still have some water, may turn dry anytime. "Only our bore well in the entire area behind Dayanand College, has some water. However, we also get just one to three buckets of water after waiting for over 8 to 10 hours. We use this water for cooking and drinking and buy water for other purposes. We pay Rs500-Rs700 for about 5,000 litre tanker that lasts for 15 days," says Arun Lakshete, who runs a printing business.
According to Abhay Mirajkar, a journalist, some tanker owners are charging Rs900 to Rs1,100 for a 6,500 litre tanker. "We need to do advanced booking for the water tanker and after waiting for 3-5 days, we get the water. At least we are able to buy it at present, but the situation is becoming very grim every day," said Hamid Shaikh, another journalist.
No water since past month
Even during the rainy season, Latur city residents used to get water every 10 days. It increased to 20 days by Diwali, then to once a month in December. However, since first week of January 2016, there is no water supply in most parts of the city from the Latur Municipal Corp, which is under the control of Congress. Some areas like Ausa Road last received water on 21st January after almost a month. But since then the taps are dry.
People are buying either water tankers or in cans. While water tankers are charging anything from Rs500 to Rs1,100, even for water cans, people are forced to pay Rs25 and above for 20 litres. Ashok Salgar, who runs a saloon, says, “We have been buying water since Diwali. At present, I am buying 1000 litres of water for Rs150 that lasts for about a week. For the past two months, we have stopped using in-house latrine, except for women members to save water. Even for bathing, we are using half a bucket instead of full bucket.”
Some residents fear that from next month onward, even the water from tankers will not be available.
The city is known for some famous politicians, like Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was the state Chief Minister twice, and Shivraj Patil Chakurkar, who was Union Home Minister and the Governor of Punjab. But this has made no difference to the Aam Aadmi. Congress leaders like Chakurkar and Deshmukh, especially the later, has turned Latur the party bastion. But this again is not without infighting. The Deshmukh clan has a say over everything in the entire Latur district. However, this hold could not avoid the defeat of Chakurkar in 2004 Lok Sabha election, who had remained undefeated for seven times since 1980. In the next election, after Latur constituency became a reserved seat, Vilasrao Deshmukh managed to get his colleague Jaywant Awale defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Dr Sunil Gaikwad. However, after Deshmukh's demise and due to the Modi wave, Dr Gaikwad managed to win in last Lok Sabha elections.
Vilasrao Deshmukh's son Amit is the member of Legislative Assembly from Latur city since 2009. After the demise of Deshmukh, his son is trying very hard to manage the vast network of supporters and local bodies. Besides, BJP there is also a notable presence of Shiv Sena in the city. While, no one was able to match Vilasrao Deshmukh, his son Amit Deshmukh and Amit’s uncle Diliprao Deshmukh, who was state minister too, are not able to either get water make any provision for water supply from the state government.
Last year in August, Eknath Khadse, Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation, had said that state government is considering supplying water from Ujani dam near Pandharpur to Latur via railway wagons. "We have instructed officials to calculate the cost of implementing the plan. Each goods train wagon would have a capacity of around 70,000 litres. It is more expensive to supply water on truck tankers than by railways," Khadse had said. But nothing is happening on the ground. In fact, Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Babanrao Lonikar had even denied having any knowledge or information on the issue (of water supply through railway wagons).
Sugar factories to blame?
Latur receives average rainfall of 725 millimetres every year. This much rainfall is more than sufficient for supplying water for drinking, agriculture and industries. However, with local politicians focussing on sugar factories, the balance in water supply is lost. Farmers are pulling our more water than necessary in order to grow sugarcane, which they think is a cash crop and does not require much efforts or care by them.
No wonder, the Latur region has 11 very large sugar factories, most of them established on co-operative basis and controlled by politicians. This also explains why sugarcane farmers were always give first preference in water share, while residents were neglected.
Earlier last week, while speaking at Moneylife Foundation’s sixth Anniversary in Mumbai, Dr RC Sinha, Advisor to the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, who saved Aurangabad from famine in the 1970s, had said, “During scarcity, all available water should be used only for drinking purpose and not for agriculture, especially for sugarcane. This is because sugar factories are known water guzzlers. You can compensate for the crops losses, but not for humans. So every drop of water needs to be supplied for drinking during the scarcity or drought.”
While there is scarcity of water in Latur throughout the year, what is more shocking is unnecessary wastage and leakages due to old, rusted pipelines. While everyone talks about getting more water from outside, almost nobody is willing to speak about water wasted in the city.
According to Jitu Kore, whose family is living in the city for several generations, “everywhere you will find water leaking out from pipelines (if at all there is any supply) as this entire network is old and fully rusted. In addition, there are no water meters and people often have leaky taps, which leads to shortage in other areas.”
Earlier, there were some efforts to install meters for water taps, but the move was defeated by all political parties.
The question is will anyone from the government start providing water to Latur or let the mass exodus to take place.